My guess: Romney to win 285-253

My hopeful prediction for the 2012 US election.

My hopeful prediction for the 2012 US election.

The BBC is one of various websites offering this fun graphic. It shows how difficult it’s going to be for Romney to win the White House… but, influenced by my own wishful thinking and a bit of psephology, here’s how I’m calling it.

Why for Romney? The party of religionistas and rednecks – not my favourite people at the best of times. But what America, in common with the entire Western world, needs right now isn’t vision or leadership so much as… a good accountant.

And if you look at how Romney handled healthcare in Massachusetts or spreadsheets in Salt Lake City, there’s only one choice. Romney is the man to balance the USA’s books – not his opponent, a nice-but-left-leaning statist whose answer to everything will always be “More Government”.

OK, polemicising over. As usual it’s all in the swing states, and nobody’s going to argue with my general shape. What I’m arguing with poll-wise is that the Republicans seem more fired up this time: my guess is that they underestimate Romney’s support by about 1.25%, with Democratic support falling off by the same amount. As predicted by every pollster for months, it’s all down to Ohio.

I call Pennsylvania for Obama. Romney’s made it a target in recent days, but I think its 20 Electoral College votes are far too much for the Mormon guy to hope for; the Dems are over 4% ahead. (I’m using polling data mainly from Politico, which tends to lean leftwards – a good foil for my rightward tendencies.)

Florida’s 29 votes though, I’m giving to Romney. Simply because he has to have them. But it’s also barely 1% behind in polling; get-out-the-vote should deliver the state for the Republicans. (Fairly this time.)

I’m also giving North Carolina to the Red team. It’s at the limit of my poll readjustment, but I don’t think the intelligentsia in the research triangle around Raleigh are going to cancel out the hordes heading to rural polling stations. 15 votes for Romney.

Virginia is a easier case: even Politico’s calculating barely 0.3% in Obama’s favour, so I’m calling its 13 votes for Romney.

Nevada’s six, however, I think sit on the Blue side. Much has been made of the Latino vote, but I think the retirees who’ve moved en masse to the beautiful desert also count for a lot… sadly not enough. Vegas goes to Obama.

Colorado I’m calling Republican. A 1.5% polling gap means a lot to play for in get-out-the-vote, and the snowy state has a lot of a) New Money who’ll vote Republican and b) Disgruntled blue-collar workers who voted for Obama last time but won’t tonight. 9 for Romney.

Iowa is the odd one: a white-bread rural State that’s far more finely balanced than its demographics would suggest. It’s right on the edge with a 2.5% gap, but I’m calling another six for Romney.

Wisconsin, though, seems to be staying Democratic. It’s odd – outside the liberal bastion of Madison it never looked very blue to me – but the polling gaps are wide, so it’s 10 more to Obama.

Which leaves the Big Prize: Ohio. It’ll also be among the first states to declare, which means we’ll basically know the result early on: if it stays Blue it’s all over bar the shouting. The gap seems alarmingly large in polling, around 3%, so this one is on the edge. A comfortable win for Obama and he’s got it in the bag. (A comfortable win for Romney means somebody cheated.)

But something about those 25,000-strong crowds last night suggests something odd’s going to happen. All my guesses today are based on what happens in Ohio.

Of course, the only thing I’ve got right here is the admission that I’m likely to be very, very wrong. But that’s elections for you.

I’ll be watching USA 2012 through the night… good luck America, and enjoy your democracy.

Kindle Fire: up in smoke?

I love my Kindle with a passion. In less than a year I’ve got whole libraries on there; I get The Economist delivered to it; I’ve put a library of classics referenced by historical era and geographical origin on it that I’m sure I’ll get round to reading someday.

But I won’t be buying a Kindle Fire. And usability expert Jakob Nielsen has put his finger on why.

The Fire is a tablet, not an e-reader. It’s a computer, a general-purpose device. And any jack-of-all-trades instantly loses the stuff that makes it special, just as a camel is a racehorse designed by committee.

With my bog-standard Kindle, it’s some gestalt of the e-ink display (no backlight, just like paper) and the few bars and buttons (they turn a page, do nothing else); it feels like a book, reproducing the experience of reading without the silly (Hi, Apple!) cheese-graphics of wood-grained bookshelves and leather-stitched edging. Just as 80s-era text adventures gave you the feel of wandering around Zork without a graphic ever being needed, a Kindle celebrates the book by not trying too hard to be one. It’s a bluesman, not a cheesy tribute band.

And yet, of course, I’m tempted. I like hi-res colour screens more than most people (I run a full 2880 x 1800 on the Windows partition of my Mac.) And the Kindle Fire is new, always appealing to a techhead. But I’m older and wiser about these things today, because…

… I’ve been here before.

About a decade ago, seduced by a colour screen and animated apps, I traded my PalmPilot for an IPAQ. (Remember them?) At first I was excited by the colour screen and a version of Windows that fitted in my pocket (sort of); something that could run Word and Excel as well as keep my calendar.

The excitement lasted all of two days. It wasn’t even a week before I started missing my Palm.

The Zen-like simplicity of the Palm 5 (the last one I owned) was what the IPAQ – and today, the Fire – is missing. The Palm really fitted in your pocket, and didn’t even weigh you down. The battery lasted for weeks. The black-and-white screen and crisp text just worked. It had that essential subset of functions you needed each day with the option to add more only as you wanted them. No palmtop or phone has ever been as useful as my little Palm, and I miss it even today.

The Zen of e-reading is the same, as long as you stick to the e-readers. Don’t ever assume reading a novel on an iPad or Fire is going to be the same experience: they’re heavier, more complex, and backlit, more tiring on the eye than any e-ink page and not like a book.

To be honest, I’m not sure how big I am on the whole tablet phenomenon to start with; I’m a content creator, whereas most people are content consumers, and pads are for consuming.

And there’s the rub. Seduced by the splash of colour, pads and tablets may well kill off e-readers: not much room for a specialist in a world of good-enough generalists. The Kindle phenomenon won’t go away, but reading books on a backlit screen with fixed pagination just isn’t going to be the same; if it was, all books today would be published in PDF. e-ink companies are already having problems; electronic paper just isn’t glamorous enough for a world that doesn’t read much. But I’m not making the same mistake I did a decade back.

I’ll keep on loving my Kindle, and may well be loving it long after the technology is obsolete.