Post-Zombie Constitutional Convention Contest Bleg

by Michael Cain

It was recently announced that James Hanley’s Post-Zombie Apocalypse Constitutional Convention class is going to happen. I think this class is sufficiently unusual that it offers an outstanding opportunity to test the prognostication power of the people at Ordinary Times. Hey, I did predictions professionally for a number of years and am always on the lookout for a chance to encourage other people to look equally (in)competent. Winners get bragging rights, such as they are. The purpose of this post is to determine whether there’s sufficient interest and to solicit suggestions for how to structure a long-term slow-motion contest. I’ll provide a brief discussion to start things. Comments to the effect of “Mike, you need to get a life” are responsive.

The goal is to make accurate predictions about the behavior of the students and their final results. Predictions can be broad, as in “The students won’t even manage to get organized.” Predictions can be very specific, as in “LGBT rights will be mentioned specifically in the draft Constitution.” There ought to be multiple categories for winners and losers, such as best predictor, best prediction, worst predictor, worst prediction, and most interesting prediction whether it was right or wrong. Scoring could easily get out of hand. Should there be a bonus for a good prediction made early in the process rather than later? Should the first person to make a particular prediction have exclusive rights to it?

There are a number of ways things could be organized. At one extreme is a “closed envelope” arrangement. Participants submit predictions via a small web service, where they are held in secret. At the end of the semester, the judge(s) sort everything out and announce the winners. The disadvantage of this approach is that it does away with the whole community thing, the opportunity for ongoing public accolades and/or humiliation. I participate at Ordinary Times because it has an excellent community, so I’m not particularly thrilled about this approach. The advantage is that it’s straightforward; the whole input system could be coded up in an afternoon.

Another option is to try to run it the way questions such as “What’s the must-have album for a road trip?” used to be posed, through the normal comment mechanism. Someone goes through the comment stream, parsing out the things that are predictions and collating others’ +1 and -1 scoring. James has indicated that he will be providing at least irregular updates on the progress of the class, so there would be at least that many posts to go through. Absent considerable user discipline, predictions might appear at multiple levels in the comment structure. The current threading allows limited depth so matching scores to predictions might be hard. Trying to automate things like matching scores to predictions and identifying duplicate predictions might be an interesting AI problem.

Yet another possibility would be to parse out the predictions and put those up on another site that supports an appropriate community scoring system. I’m thinking broadly along the lines of Slashdot’s moderation points here. People could drop by and rate predictions (based on their interpretation of James’ posts) by correct, incorrect, too soon to tell, and interesting. Again, there’s a mixed set of advantages and disadvantages. Automated extraction of predictions from the Ordinary Times site is feasible, at least to the degree that one of the contest rules could be “Predictions not prefaced with the string ‘Prediction:’ won’t be entered.” OTOH, scoring is only partially tied into the community. Users have to go somewhere else to do it, and lose the opportunity to provide instant feedback to the person who made the prediction.

This is a harder problem on multiple levels than I thought it was when I suggested it as a throwaway remark a couple of weeks ago.

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25 thoughts on “Post-Zombie Constitutional Convention Contest Bleg

  1. Okay then, here’s what I think they’ll do.

    1. Havpnzreny angvbany yrtvfyngher, jvgu ab svyvohfgre — gung vf, gurl’yy unir n Ubhfr bs Ercerfragngvirf, ohg abg n Frangr.

    2. Aba-qvfpevzvangvba (yvxr Gvgyr IVV, abg yvxr Rdhny Cebgrpgvbaf Pynhfr) jevggra vagb Pbafgvghgvba.

    3. Nagv-nobegvba cebivfvba (bssrerq ba pynvz bs arrq gb ercbchyngr gur angvba nsgre mbzovr ncbpnylcfr) aneebjyl snvyf gb cnff.

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  2. Some info from would be helpful; at the very least, number of students, gender, and some grasp of socioeconomic range and regions of the country they represent. (I’d expect different outcomes from a class with more men than I would from a class equally balanced or with more women, and different outcomes if the majority of students hail from the midwest, south, east, west-coast, etc.)

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    • The class currently has 12 students registered, and the final roster will probably change by a few students (more likely a few more, rather than a few less, as I’ll probably get 1 or 2 transfer students and possibly a few freshman honors students, but that will not be known until late August).

      The current gender breakdown is 8 men, 4 women, but one of the women is the only senior in the class, and is an insightful, dynamic, and well-organized person who is experience in diplomatic simulation (Model UN and Model Arab League, and I observed her playing the board game Diplomacy once, and swore then and there I’d never play in a game she was in). She would–undoubtedly–dominate the simulation, so I have asked her to hold back a bit to give others a chance to act before she intimidates them into compliance, and to act as my proxy when I want students to consider something.

      The students are predominantly middle class–of varying, but unknown degrees, of middleness. Some will probably be upper middle class, but overall our demographic profile probably hovers at an average of middle-middle class.

      11 of the students are from Michigan or Ohio, mostly small to medium sized towns, but with one or two from the Detroit suburbs. 1 is from Phoenix, AZ, but has roots in Michigan (parents are alums of the college, still has family in Michigan). 10 appear to be Caucasian, one African-American, and the Arizona student is Korean/Caucasian.

      I can’t speak to their politics. I don’t know them all, and even with students I know, I generally avoid making efforts to know their political views (although sometimes they’re rather more open about them than I would prefer).

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  3. What are the zombie rules? I’m mainly wondering about what causes zombie. In “The Walking Dead”, everybody’s already infected… so death turns them into zombies no matter what (excepting a head shot). Other zombie flicks, however, allowed for Zombie to be transmitted only via death by zombie. This might change things. (Also, we’re talking slow zombies, right? Fast zombies were just a flash in the pan, right?)

    Gurl’yy cebonoyl fcyvg hc vagb gjb snpgvbaf. Fvk naq fvk be svir naq frira. Guvf vf orpnhfr bar bs gurz jvyy or n ohapu bs fheivinyvfg glcrf jubfr sbphf jvyy or fbyryl ba znxvat vg guebhtu rabhtu jvagref gb pbasvqragyl fnl gung gur cynthr unf cnfg. Gurve pbafgvghgvba, fhpu nf vg vf, jvyy qrgnvy erfcbafvovyvgvrf bs pvgvmraf (naq chavfuzragf sbe snvyvat gb zrrg gurz) zber guna nalguvat ryfr. Fghss yvxr “sbhaq gb unir snyyra nfyrrc qhevat jngpu” jvyy or ba gurer.

    Gur bgure tebhc jvyy or bar gung jnagf gb frg qbja ehyrf sbe n arj fbpvrgl *ABJ*. Gurl’yy gnyx nobhg fghss yvxr tnl zneevntr naq, sbe fbzr ernfba, “urnygu pner”. Vg’yy yvxryl or pbzzhavfg (fznyy ‘P’) naq gur rzcunfvf jvyy or ba gur vzcbegnapr bs funevat engvbaf snveyl, funevat urnygu pner snveyl, naq fb ba.

    Vs gurer’f n frperg onyybg nfxvat “juvpu tebhc vf zber yvxryl gb frr 2020?”, gur srenyf jvyy cebonoyl jva.

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    • It was my understanding that the zombies were all gone; whatever caused them is destroyed and the task at hand is rebuilding society. But given my prediction no. 3 above, I think you and I anticipate something similar in the political cleavage.

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      • I had assumed roving gangs of zombies still found in lakes or in the woods or what have you. Okay. They’re all gone? A couple of tweaks but nothing earth-shattering:

        Gurl’yy cebonoyl fcyvg hc vagb gjb snpgvbaf. Fvk naq fvk be svir naq frira. Guvf vf orpnhfr bar bs gurz jvyy or n ohapu bs fheivinyvfg glcrf jubfr sbphf jvyy or fbyryl ba znxvat vg guebhtu gur arkg jvagre naq, va gur zrqvhz grez, gur bar nsgre gung. Gurve pbafgvghgvba, fhpu nf vg vf, jvyy qrgnvy erfcbafvovyvgvrf bs pvgvmraf (naq chavfuzragf sbe snvyvat gb zrrg gurz) zber guna nalguvat ryfr. Fghss yvxr “sbhaq gb unir snyyra nfyrrc qhevat jngpu” jvyy or ba gurer. Vg jvyy or snveyl erterffvir, fbpvnyyl. Zra jvyy eha nebhaq jrnevat shef, jbzra jvyy fgnl vaqbbef znxvat dhvygf naq qelvat sehvg naq jungabg. Gurfr sbyxf jvyy or va gur Abegurnfg, nebhaq gur terng ynxrf, naq jryy vagb Zvpuvtna, V erpxba. Creuncf rira Jvfpbafva be Zvaarfbgn.

        Gur bgure tebhc jvyy or bar gung jnagf gb frr gur mbzovr ncbpnylcfr nf na vagreehcgvba gb jung gurl jrer qbvat orsber gur ivehf fubjrq hc. Gurl’yy gnyx nobhg fghss yvxr tnl zneevntr naq, sbe fbzr ernfba, “urnygu pner”. Vg’yy yvxryl or pbzzhavfg (fznyy ‘P’) naq gur rzcunfvf jvyy or ba gur vzcbegnapr bs funevat engvbaf snveyl, funevat urnygu pner snveyl, funevat qhgvrf serryl, naq fb ba. Gurl’yy or nybat gur fbhgurnfgrea pbnfgyvarf, gur thys pbnfg, naq hc naq qbja gur grzcrengr cnegf bs gur Zvffvffvccv.

        Vs gurer’f n frperg onyybg nfxvat “vs bayl bar bs gurfr tebhcf fheivirf, juvpu tebhc vf zber yvxryl gb frr 2020?”, gur srenyf jvyy cebonoyl jva.

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      • Well, I’m telling the students they’re all gone, so they don’t obsess on zombie protections. But I’m building in varying levels of confidence about that, from state to state. What the students end up focusing on, though, will be largely up to them.

        And as a comment appropriate to your predictions, I should clarify that at present–barring more students–the convening states will be limited to the upper Midwest, Great Lakes, and maybe Mid-Atlantic states.

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      • It seems to me that the Great Lakes area of the country (especially Michigan) has a lot of bounty *BUT* you have to play the game as if you were an ant (rather than a grasshopper). You’ve got a wonderful spring, a bountiful summer, a HUGELY bountiful autumn, followed by one hell of a crappy winter. If you played your cards right during the year, you won’t lose much weight come February and March and Easter will be a blast. You’ll celebrate all kinds of fertility. Maybe come up with some new gods… And there’s a culture that follows from that that won’t follow from states that have, say, year-round growing seasons.

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  4. A paragraph I should have probably included in the original…

    The purpose of asking these questions at this time is not to stimulate submission of predictions, or questions regarding the details of the post-zombie scenario. I’m assuming that James is willing to provide a synopsis of what he gives the students to us when he has it (or maybe not; if I were a student, I might not want a bunch of people looking over the prof’s shoulder at what I was doing). All I’m trying to do is figure out how to structure things, and if software is involved, deal with the problem that can be summarized as, “If you want the clever real-time bits to run properly, give the job to Mike; don’t let Mike design the user interface.”

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    • I will provide an account of what I give the students. Doing so will not compromise any privacy rights of the students, so I have no qualms about making the information public. Indeed I’d love it if other profs stumbled across it and decided to experiment with the idea, with or without zombies (I think the important part of the simulation is providing some contextual familiarity–it takes place in a geographical region familiar to them–while abstracting away from the states as they currently know them, so that they are consciously crafting a new constitution for a very changed place, rather than just tinkering with the current U.S. Constitution.

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