Coloradans lack strong feelings about ColoradoCare

March 3rd, 2016 Comments off

This November, Colorado residents will head to the polls and be faced with a question possibly more important than who should be the next president: should Colorado implement single-payer healthcare?

I was curious about how likely that proposal, known as ColoradoCare (or Amendment 69), was to pass. Unfortunately, no opinion polls exploring that question have been performed, so no data was available. I set out to fix that.

First, some background. ColoradoCare is a single-payer healthcare proposal for Colorado residents that will be funded by increased payroll taxes. Proponents of the program expect it to cost about $25 billion in its first year, which is roughly the same as the entire current Colorado state budget. The new 10% payroll tax will be split 33/67 between employees and employers. It will cover all healthcare services, which will be provided with no deductibles and no co-pays. The proposed constitutional amendment was added to the ballot after supporters gathered 156,000 signatures in 2015.

Opposition to ColoradoCare has formed as a bi-partisan coalition. Opponents argue that the plan is expensive, unworkable, and shouldn’t be enshrined in the constitution. They point to Vermont as a place that considered a similar system only to see those plans collapse.

But what do the people think?

I investigated hiring a polling firm like SurveyUSA to run a poll, but the cost would have been four to five digits. I searched awhile for cheaper options. Eventually, I decided to run a Google Consumer Survey.

Google Surveys are those slightly annoying short questionnaires that some sites use to unlock things like articles or premium features. They are not proper opinion polls by any stretch of the imagination. However, there’s some evidence that those surveys can be reasonably accurate for predicting political outcomes. The sample population is reasonably random, and Google knows enough about individual internet users (gender, age, income) to allow some level of weighting.

For my survey, I decided to use a series of three questions. The first two would be screening questions to try to limit responses to likely Colorado voters:

  1. Are you residing/working in Colorado? (Yes/No/Prefer not to say)
  2. Are you likely to vote in the 2016 general election this November? (Yes/No/Prefer not to say)

The presentation order of the answers was randomized for each person. I wanted to ask “Are you a Colorado resident?” but that question got rejected by Google as being too personal; hence, the slightly strange “residing/working” phrasing of the first question.

If the user answered “yes” to each of the screening questions, they were presented with the real question:

  • Do you strongly favor, favor, oppose, or strongly oppose the proposed Colorado single-payer healthcare initiative known as ColoradoCare (also known as Amendment 69)?  (Strongly Favor/Favor/Oppose/Strongly Oppose/Don’t know)

For this question, the order of the answers was randomly reversed.

Here's what the main survey question looked like on a phone.

Here’s what the main survey question looked like on a phone.

Google ran some tests, came back with a quote (per completed questionnaire), and asked me how much I wanted to spend. The per-response cost was about an order of magnitude lower than a proper poll, but still a bit expensive, so I went with 100 responses. For voter turnout of 2.6 million (roughly true of Colorado), 100 responses provides +/- 10% confidence intervals at a 95% confidence level — enough to get a feel for things.

I ran the poll starting yesterday and going into today (March 2 – March 3, 2016). This morning, Google emailed me to tell me that the results were ready. I clicked the link with bated breath.

Here’s the summary of the results. About half of the population doesn’t have an opinion about the proposal or is unfamiliar with it. Among the half that has an opinion, there is a fairly even split between those in favor and those opposed.

Results of my survey (March 2-3, 2016, web poll of 100 LV)

Results of my survey (March 2-3, 2016, web poll of 100 Colorado likely voters)

Interestingly, the error bars came in right about as expected, roughly +/- 10%. Here’s what the results looked like if you grouped the favor/strongly favor and oppose/strongly oppose options. Also, feel free to look at the raw data, which includes demographic information of the survey respondents.

Now, there are a huge number of issues with this survey: small sample size; bias towards people who use the internet; under-representation of the poor, wealthy, and elderly; and so on. Still, I think a couple of conclusions are reasonable:

  1. A sizable portion of the population is available to be swayed for or against the amendment
  2. The margin of passage or rejection at the polls is not likely to be as large as some commentators had hoped or feared.

Should be interesting to see how these results compare with the first proper polls on the subject, which I expect will happen sometime this summer.

UPDATE June 7, 2016: The political futures market PredictIt.org now offers futures contracts for the ColoradoCare question. For those unfamiliar with the concept of a political futures market, it’s a way for people to bet money on whether or not ballot measures will pass, which people will get elected, and so on. The idea is that the “wisdom of crowds” can provide insight into the likelihood of future events. The market for the ColoradoCare question is new as of today, so it’s too soon to gain any insight from it. Still, in the absence of better polls, this market might be the best gauge of whether Amendment 69 will pass.

Finding valid vanity license plates

January 31st, 2016 Comments off

Vanity license plates are frivolous, but life is often made more enjoyable by frivolities. The biggest problem with obtaining such a license plate is finding a combination of letters and numbers that is desirable but not yet taken. It’s a task made harder by the states, many of which keep the availability of a particular combination a secret until you’ve gone through the hassle of applying for it. Worse, some states, such as Colorado, require that the application be on a piece of paper that’s physically mailed in, which means that the cycle between applying and getting rejected will take weeks at best.

A few years ago, I decided I wanted a custom plate for Sam, my Subaru, in honor of the epic road trip I was about to undertake with him. I was living in Minnesota at the time. When I had renewed the registration for my other Subaru, I had noticed that the registration tax could be looked up using just a license plate. If the plate was unregistered, an error would be returned to that effect. Bingo! I went through a few words, and soon I discovered a great option: “EXPLORE”.

Sam the Subaru with his

Sam, caked in Canadian bugs, with his “EXPLORE” vanity license plate

Jump ahead to last summer. I tried to find a similar trick for Colorado, but none of the official state websites would give up any information with only a license plate. I didn’t want to go through the cycle of application and rejection multiple times by mail. Fortunately, another option became apparent.

I had purchased an “unlimited” subscription to Carfax for vehicle history reports when I was looking for a Porsche to buy. A report could be obtained by entering a car’s VIN or — critically — by entering a car’s license plate. I immediately recognized the potential. I pulled up a list of Colorado’s vanity plate requirements and started trying various real words and clever corruptions.

After many attempts, I found a few options that would have worked for Sam or for the Porsche, like “FLAT6”, and a few others that would have been great for one of them, like “SUBARU”. I filled out the paper application, mailed it in, and a few weeks later… got rejected. The reason given was, roughly, “Not an allowable combination.” In other words, the combinations did appear to be available, but they were considered invalid. The fact that they clearly met the vanity plate requirements was apparently lost on the person processing the requests.

Maybe I’ll try again this year.

A farewell to hockey

August 31st, 2015 1 comment

Ten years of hockey. That’s what fate gave me. I cherished them. They are now in the past.

As I related in my previous blog post, I had been playing for almost exactly 10 years when I suffered a bad knee injury in December 2014. My MCL was sprained in an on-ice collision. Goaltending places enormous stresses on the MCL, and I suddenly found myself unable to stay stable in my stance let alone move as a goalie must. An attempt to return to the ice — perhaps too soon — led only to a painful re-injury of my knee and crushed hopes.

I always knew that I’d need to hang up my skates someday. I never expected to be in my early 30s when that day came.

Skating towards my net in November 2014, the week before my knee injury (Photo: Tyler)

Skating towards my net in November 2014, the week before my knee injury (Photo: Tyler)

When I chose to start my hockey career by playing goalie at a learn-to-play session in December 2004, I joined a hallowed fraternity. Jacques Plante, Vladislav Tretiak, Ken Dryden, Patrick Roy, Dominik Hasek, Martin Brodeur… those men were my hockey heroes: the ones defending their nets, not the skaters putting pucks past their opponents.

Although I wasn’t a particularly good hockey goalie, I truly loved playing. Goalie was an individual position in the midst of a team sport. Goalie required an analytical mind. Goalie rewarded strong legs and steely courage. Goalie had cool gear.

I think I liked hockey precisely because I wasn’t good at it; it was an enjoyable challenge for me. I had begun to expect success at whatever I tried, and with hockey that turned out not to be the case.

Hockey taught me humility when my teams would lose by half a dozen goals. In the locker room after those miserable games, all I wanted to do was curl up in the corner and disappear. The numbers on the scoreboard were undeniable reality. But I couldn’t disappear; and I would have to come back again the next week with the same teammates; and so I was forced to learn how to deal with defeat.

But victory? What a high, what a thrill! The celebration in front of the net, the pats of congratulation on my mask, the satisfaction of a job well done, the memories of saves. Beautiful saves!

The victory was sweetest when my goaltending made an undeniable contribution to the win. In many games, my team won in spite of me, but once in a while we triumphed because of my performance.

In the summer of 2014, my team won a game in a shootout after ending regulation tied 0-0. Not only did I get the shutout and the shootout win, but I had earned it. I was in the zone. I was seeing the puck. I was making saves, and those saves were making a difference. I felt prescient.

We go through life seeking those often-fleeting moments of flow. When we achieve them the high is as sublime as any drug. That win was one of my happiest hockey moments.

I had never been athletic growing up, nor was I on any team sports. Hockey was my way of experiencing that joy as an adult. Out there on the ice, we were all just big kids having fun. I regret not playing hockey as a child, but I’m glad I started eventually rather than never. I’m so glad I continued to play while I was able.

Hockey gave me a reason to look forward during dark times. My hockey trip, where I played in every American state and every Canadian province, was born of near desperation to escape what had become a year of failure. Hockey became a goal, a reason to get up, a reason to dream again.

“The Trip” fulfilled its promise. It changed me. It became a profound pillar in my life history, an epoch marker. From then on, everything was “before my hockey trip” or “after my hockey trip.”

I miss the sound of steel on ice. I miss the bracing cold of the rinks. I miss the camaraderie of the locker room, the pre-game rituals, the post-game beers whether in victory or defeat.

Oh sure, I might still be able to skate out, but I never found as much joy in that as when I was in net. For me, playing hockey means playing goalie.

Perhaps, given enough time, my knee will eventually be strong enough for me to return to the ice. I hope that will come to pass. If not, at least I can look back with fond memories of the decade of my life when I was a hockey goalie.

The knee

August 28th, 2015 Comments off

My first thought was that my team really needed to get the puck out of the zone. My second thought was that I wasn’t sure I’d be able to stand up again.

It was a beer-league hockey game in December 2014 at the Ice Ranch in Littleton, Colorado. Only a few minutes had gone by in the game and my team was ahead by five goals. I was in net pitching a shutout. We weren’t usually that good — the season was actually going quite poorly — but we were helped by the fact that our opponents were playing with no goalie at all. Something about a mix-up getting a backup tendy.

Me, in mid-movement to my left during a game in November 2014 (Photo: Tyler)

Since they were skating six men, they managed to break it out of their zone. Their center carried the puck to near the faceoff circle to my right, so I followed him over in my stance. Suddenly, one of my defensemen collided with me from my left — behind the play. I went to the ice on my back, and he fell on top of me. Since I had been in my stance, my knee was bent when he hit me, and when we went down, he pinned my lower left leg back and to the side of my upper left leg, bent and slightly rotated. A body isn’t supposed to twist like that.

I felt a pop and then sharp pain in my left knee. I screamed.

My team’s failure to clear the puck out of our zone ended up irrelevant since the ref blew his whistle within a few seconds of the collision. After my d-man got off of me, I rolled over and tried to move my leg. It responded, but something was definitely loose. The sharp pain had been replaced by a dull numbness, the sort that heralds an injury that will be terrible once the swelling starts and the adrenaline wears off.

Somehow, I stood up and limped to the bench. I had a vague notion that I might be able to work it out or stretch it out or will it out… or something. In hindsight, my mental state was a bigger liability than my leg. I was terrified that I might have had a severe knee injury, unsure of what to do, and even less sure about the conflicting instructions being tossed my way by well-meaning teammates on the bench.

With the other team’s goalie still absent, and me on the bench with a loose knee and sheer terror in my mind, an extremely rare event occurred in the game: both nets were empty. It was something I’d never seen before in any organized game at any level of hockey.

Unfortunately, my team was less deft at running up the score with both nets empty than with only our opponent’s goal unmanned. Our opponents were more skilled; the tally moved closer to parity with every ticking minute. Then, worse news for us: a guy who looked high school age with goalie sticks in one hand and a goalie equipment bag in the other was rushing towards the changing room.

My team begged me to go back on the ice. I wanted nothing more than to rejoin them in battle, but my left knee protested. It felt as though any stress would cause whatever shreds of tissue were holding it together to give way entirely. Perhaps I could go back to the net and just stand there, one teammate asked? I hesitated for a moment, watched yet another puck go in our still-empty net, and decided to give it a try.

I normally played goalie in the butterfly style, which takes away most of the lower part of the net but places high levels of stress on the knees. With my left knee no longer able to tolerate that abuse, I was forced to play more of a standup style. It was a return to an earlier time, something seldom seen since the early 1990s.

Although my legs were fixed upright, my hands were still free to move, and I began turning away shots with my stick, glove, and blocker. About five minutes after my return, the other team finally got a goalie in their net, too, and the game began in earnest.

I wish I could say that my personal shutout continued, but it was not to be. A lack of mobility was too much to overcome, and I let in another goal or two after my return. Fortunately, my team had managed to find the back of the net enough times in the early minutes of the game that we still pulled out the win overall.

My job completed, I limp-skated off the ice and into the dressing room. My knee had already begun to swell.

By the next morning, I was in tremendous pain, my knee was swollen so much that it barely bent at all, and it was all I could do to let Sophie outside into my fenced yard. Our usual morning and afternoon walks were out of the question.

There was but one question on my mind: had I skated my last game of hockey?

(To be continued.)

Car Number Seven

June 28th, 2015 1 comment

Just before the turn, I downshifted to 2nd, blipped the gas, and let the clutch out. The tires strained against the forces of the curve. I gradually opened the throttle. The flat-6 engine behind my head sang, its harmonic chorus growing more glorious with the increasing revs.

And so it went. The miles descending from Nederland toward Denver snapped by in quick joy. Not far from the top, another silver Boxster S, nearly identical to my own, popped out behind me. He waved; I waved back. We chased each other through the forested hills.

The sun was out, so I had the top down. The sweet perfume of pine permeated the cool morning air. I’d driven Coal Creek Canyon Road before, but never had it been such a zesty enterprise. That’s not to say the speeds were illegal; no, the twisty road combined with an amazing mid-engine car provided spice without excess speed. A pleasant drive is a meditation that clears the mind.

My Porsche Boxster S

While I was growing up, my dad owned a series of interesting cars. The one that captured my heart wasn’t the Corvette. Instead, it was the red 1978 Porsche 911SC. His was a “targa” model, meaning that it had a partially removable roof. It was the car I learned to drive a stick in. I remember cruising along, open sky above my head, the tires gripping the Minnesota country roads. What a blast! I knew that, someday, I wanted a Porsche of my own.

Me in my dad’s 911SC around the year 2000

For the next 15 years, other priorities held sway. Then, this spring, the flame was rekindled.

I was shooting sporting clays with my friend Kameron and his coworker Gavin in early April. Gavin mentioned that he raced Porsches with the local Porsche club. “Ah yes,” I thought. “I remember wanting to do that.”

Two weeks later, Tyler bought an MG Midget — a classic British sports car. He gave me the opportunity to drive it, which I accepted. It had been eight years since I sold my sports sedan, the BMW 540i. I’d forgotten how much fun it was to drive a car built for the joy of driving. I started looking for a car of my own.

At first, I thought I wanted an air-cooled Porsche 911. Then I saw the prices. Seems they had gone up significantly since my dad has his car in the 1990s. I adjusted my sights towards a newer-yet-still-old 911 model, the type 996, which, being water cooled, was less desirable to enthusiasts and therefore substantially cheaper.

I was looking for a closed-cockpit coupe, not a convertible. I didn’t see the appeal of a drop-top. The trip across Colorado in Tyler’s MG, which was a convertible, changed my mind. Despite the MG’s top not sealing well against rain (duct tape to the rescue!), and although I got a sunburn on my arms, face, and neck, I had a great time being out in the open. I began to understand why people liked convertibles.

I researched the Boxster, a convertible, and I realized that I could get a good one for less money than a type-996 911 in equivalent condition. Never mind my other biases about the Boxster. Sure, I had thought the back end was ugly and that the whole car was a “poor man’s” 911, not a worthy car in its own right. Then I started reading people rave about the driving experience, and I decided that it was one of those cars that photographs poorly but looks good in person.

I found my future vehicle on Cars.com. It was the right color — for Porsches should only ever be silver or red — it had the right transmission, a stick, and it had the bigger “S” engine, a 3.2 L beast instead of the basic 2.7 L.

The Boxster was at home on Colorado’s twisty mountain roads

Bob, the defense attorney who sold the Boxster to me, was upgrading to a 911. In the three years he owned it, he spent thousands replacing the convertible top, tires, brakes, and numerous bits and pieces related to the engine. He even saw fit to replace the missing “Boxster S” badge on the trunk. Such was his attention to detail. It wasn’t the cheapest Boxster available, but there is nothing so expensive as a cheap exotic car.

My other car with a flat-6, my Subaru Outback, was still objectively better than the Boxster in nearly all regards. It was newer, quieter, more powerful, more comfortable, and more spacious. It could drive through snow. It could pass over bumps taller than four inches. And yet, for the pure thrill of driving, the Boxster bested it. With a curb weight of just 2800 lbs, nearly 800 less than the Outback, the Boxster felt far quicker and more nimble. Indeed, I was taking advantage of that in Coal Creek Canyon.

My drive through the foothills led to flatlands, and eventually our fun little road met its end at a boring stoplight. The other Boxster turned his way, and I turned mine.

Stats

  • Meridian silver metallic 2002 Porsche Boxster S
  • 3.2 L naturally aspirated flat-6
  • 6-speed manual transmission
  • 250 hp / 225 lb-ft
  • Natural grey leather interior
  • 66,200 miles when acquired (June 18, 2015)