Archive for October, 2011

Monday Morning Linkorama

Monday, October 31st, 2011
  • Yes, Virginia: the panic that China will dominate the world is bullshit.
  • Children’s drawings become real toys.
  • The invasion has begun.
  • And sometimes people don’t sue.
  • Game Six

    Thursday, October 27th, 2011

    You know that excitement index I blogged about? Tonight’s game shattered the record. 4.5 — the highest in 110 years of baseball post-seasons. The old record was 4.1.

    For once, I think the system is right.

    Monday Linkorama

    Monday, October 24th, 2011

    I’m at a conference. It stimulates my curiosity. Expects lots of links:

  • A truly horrible story out of Spain. Hundreds of thousands of children were taken from their parents and given to approved couples.
  • Obama ramps up the crackdown on pot. Meanwhile, in the reality-based world, doctors and average Americans want this madness stopped.
  • I think this building would make me a believer.
  • As someone struggling to have another kid, the idea of girls literally named ‘unwanted’ breaks my heart.
  • The Dalek Game.
  • This story would make my dad faint.
  • This article about women not marrying, is interesting but sounds like the author is trying to persuade herself of something she doesn’t really believe. Also, I resent being the 80%.
  • Excitement 2011

    Tuesday, October 18th, 2011

    Back in 2007, I created the excitement index to rate post-seasons. The idea was to create a very simple way of using box scores to measure how exciting a baseball post-season was. It’s quick and dirty; not perfect. I’m sure others have more robust methods that use win probability or something. But it’s mine and I’ve posted on it in 2008 and 2010. The 2007 post has the details, last year’s some more data. Just some highlights:

  • To give you a sense of scale. The average games scores 1.9 points. The average 5-games series scores 7.2. The average 7-game series 10.8. The average modern post-season scores 60 points.
  • The most exciting post-season in history was 2003, which came in at a whopping 74.1 points. You may remember this one as the year both the Red Sox and Cubs were five outs away from a pennant and blew it. Pro-rated, however, the 1991 post-season comes in slightly better (40.2 points pro-rated to 78.5). That was the year the Braves came from nowhere to take the Pirates and then the Twins to seven games.
  • The most boring post-season, as I noted above, was 2007. Five series sweeps and a surprisingly dull 7-game ALCS. It game in at 47.6.
  • The most exciting 7-game series was the 1991 World Series (17.2). As a survivor of that, who watched the greatest Cinderella team ever lose a 7-game heart-breaker, I can vouch for that one. Coming in second is the 2001 World Series (16.1).
  • The dullest 7-game series was 1989′s blowout of San Francisco by Oakland in which the Giants never took a lead. It scored a pathetic 5.4.
  • The most exciting 5-game series was 1980′s Philadelphia-Houston epic ALCS which featured four extra-inning game. At 13.5, it outdid most 7-game series.
  • The most boring 5-gamer was St. Louis blowing out San Diego in the 2005 NLDS. There have been games that have scored better than the 3.9 the whole series did.
  • The most-exciting game, at a whopping 4.1, was game two of the 1997 NLDS. Huh? That game featured 8 ties or lead changes and was won on a walk-off single by Moises Alou. I’m inclined to think this a quirk of the system. Even though game seven of the 2001 world series only score 3.3, I would give that the nod as the greatest game.
  • There are many candidates for boring games. Technically, game seven of the 1996 NLCS scored the lowest (1.06). But the Braves’ 15-0 victory capped a comeback from a 1-3 series deficit. Game five of that series (a 14-0 blowout, 1.07 in the system) is another candidate, as is game one of the World Series that year. But I would probably go with game one of the 2005 ALDS (1.08), Chicago’s 14-2 blowout of Boston.
  • I’ve now taken the database through the entire 20th century. I’ve included the 9-game series of 1903, 1919-1922 and I’ve left out the games from the 1907, 1912 and 1922 series that ended in ties.

    One of the things I love about this exercise is being able to uncover things I didn’t know. For example in 1943 and 1945, the world series used a 3-4, rather than 2-3-2 format, presumably to save expenses. (The 1944 series was all St. Louis). I now feel a great kinship with Brooklyn Dodgers fans, whose world-series losses were as frustrating and agonizing as the 90′s Braves. And one of the great unknown games of all time was Game 3 of the 1914 World Series. Special mention should be made of the 1905 Series, where every game was a shutout.

    The most exciting post-season was 2003. However, the most exciting pro-rated is now the 1972 post-season. After having the ’69-’71 LCS series flop badly (all but one were sweeps), ’72 went the full measure, two 5-game series and one 7-game series. It featured:

  • ALCS Game One: Tied at 1-1 going into the eleventh, Al Kaline hits a homer for Detroit. But with one out, Gonzalo Marquez hits a single that ties it and a Kaline error lets the winning run score.
  • After back-to-back shutouts by Odom and Coleman, ALCS Game Four goes into the 10th tied at 1. Oakland scores two in the top of the 10th, Detroit wins it with three runs in the bottom of the inning.
  • ALCS Game five ends with a tight 3-2 win for Oakland.
  • NLCS Game five has the Reds, down by 1 in the 9th, tie it on Bench’s homer and win it on a wild pitch by Moose. This would be Roberto Clemente’s last game.
  • Six of the world series games are decide by one run. All six are low-scoring thrillers, including a 1-0 game 3. Cincinnati almost comes back down three games to one. In pivotal game four, Oakland scores two in the 9th to win it.
  • All told, it gets 36.16 points, best of the 1969-1984 era and pro-rated to 87 points.

    Anyway, 2011 is shaping up to be a good post-season. With 55 points, it’s guaranteed to be average and a great world series could push it up into the high 60′s, a level not reached since 2003. Five of the six series have been above average although only the Cards-Phils series was really great.

    Weekend Linkorama

    Saturday, October 15th, 2011
  • Faces of Fear. It’s cruel, but hilarious.
  • You only need to watch about ten seconds of this to get the point: the No Signal movie cliche is getting tiresome already.
  • What a strange job.
  • Yeah, I’m looking forward to getting the new iphone.
  • Scientific awesomeness.
  • The League Cup

    Thursday, October 13th, 2011

    Joe Posnanski has a post up about how the best team in the league rarely wins the World Series. This set off a thought.

    I wonder if one thing we could do to increase the drama of the regular season is to give the league championship title to the team with the best record, rather than the one that wins two playoff series. I was inspired in this by the Premier League in England, which gives out a League Cup to the team with the best overall record. It’s not like the FA Cup, which is won in a tournament. But it at least recognizes a season-long achievement. And the best teams in football are those that win the “double” of both cups.

    Baseball has separate leagues, so you would have two teams each year eligible for the “double”. And it seems reasonable to do so since it’s not always clear which league is better (although you could tip it to whichever league wins inter-league play). There’s also the problem of divisions, that the team with the most wins is sometimes from a weak division. Meh. Maybe that will create an incentive to abolish the division structure. I think we would stick with most wins because any scheme to correct for schedule difficulty ends up a matter of opinion and we don’t want this to become the BCS.

    If such a scheme were observed in baseball, here is the list of league champions for the wild card era. I’ve included 1994, when we didn’t have a world series. Bolded teams would have won the “double” for wining the World Series as well.

    1994 – New York (70), Montreal (74)
    1995 – Cleveland (100), Atlanta (90)
    1996 – Cleveland (99), Atlanta (96)
    1997 – Baltimore (98), Atlanta (101)
    1998 – New York (114), Atlanta (106)
    1999 – New York (98), Atlanta (99)
    2000 – Chicago (95), San Francisco (97)
    2001 – Seattle (116), St. Louis/Houston (93)
    2002 – New York/Oakland (103), Atlanta (101)
    2003 – New York (101), Atlanta (101)
    2004 – New York (101), St. Louis (105)
    2005 – Chicago (99), St. Louis (100)
    2006 – New York (97), New York (97)
    2007 – Boston (96), Colorado/Arizona (90)
    2008 – Anaheim (100), Chicago (97)
    2009 – New York (103), Los Angeles (95)
    2010 – Tampa Bay (96), Philadelphia (97)
    2011 – New York (97), Philadelphia (102)

    A few things to note: First, in contrast to the list of World Series winners, the league championship shows a much clearer picture of which teams were dominating baseball. Atlanta would have won five straight championships and seven overall. The Yankees would have won eight. The great Cardinals and Phillies teams would have gone back-to-back. Montreal would have been league champ in the aborted ’94 season. That’s a much cleaner version of baseball history than World Series title.

    Second, notice the teams that win “the double”. The 98-99 Yankees, in the running for greatest team of all -time, win two in a row. The 2007 Boston Red Sox, 1995 Braves, 2005 White Sox and 2009 Yankees also join the list.

    During the 1969-1993 era, when we had playoffs but no wild card, doubles were a lot more common, since you only had four playoff teams, two of which were eligible for the double. But even then, there some standouts, particular the 75-76 Reds and the 92-93 Jays, who won back-to-back doubles.

    I have no illusion that an idea on a backwater blog will get anywhere. Hell, Bob Costas could suggest this and baseball would demur. But if they want to inject just a little bit of drama back into the regular season, maybe recognizing the team with best record would be a good first step.

    And at least I can stop thinking about it now.

    The Death of Innovation?

    Sunday, October 9th, 2011

    Someone recently sent me this diatribe from Neal Stephenson on the lack of innovation in recent years.

    Still, I worry that our inability to match the achievements of the 1960s space program might be symptomatic of a general failure of our society to get big things done. My parents and grandparents witnessed the creation of the airplane, the automobile, nuclear energy, and the computer to name only a few. Scientists and engineers who came of age during the first half of the 20th century could look forward to building things that would solve age-old problems, transform the landscape, build the economy, and provide jobs for the burgeoning middle class that was the basis for our stable democracy.

    The Deepwater Horizon oil spill of 2010 crystallized my feeling that we have lost our ability to get important things done. The OPEC oil shock was in 1973—almost 40 years ago. It was obvious then that it was crazy for the United States to let itself be held economic hostage to the kinds of countries where oil was being produced. It led to Jimmy Carter’s proposal for the development of an enormous synthetic fuels industry on American soil. Whatever one might think of the merits of the Carter presidency or of this particular proposal, it was, at least, a serious effort to come to grips with the problem.

    Little has been heard in that vein since. We’ve been talking about wind farms, tidal power, and solar power for decades. Some progress has been made in those areas, but energy is still all about oil. In my city, Seattle, a 35-year-old plan to run a light rail line across Lake Washington is now being blocked by a citizen initiative. Thwarted or endlessly delayed in its efforts to build things, the city plods ahead with a project to paint bicycle lanes on the pavement of thoroughfares

    Stephenson goes on to criticize our space program, which threw away shuttle tanks rather than using them to build space stations and has spectacularly failed to produce cheap launch vehicles. He also criticizes the energy industry.

    Both of these are valid criticisms, but something bears pointing out: the industries of which he is the most critical — energy and space — have been under the heavy hand of government. Carter’s Synthetic Fuels Corp was a fiasco, burning tens of billions. The biggest government investment in energy of late is ethanol, an ecological, economic and scientific disaster supported for political reasons. Even their attempts to jumpstart green tech has been stymied by politics, as we’ve seen with Solyndra. And the same goes with the space program. We didn’t turn shuttle tanks into cheap space stations because having an expensive space station was the whole point.

    In industries with less government oversight, we’ve seen spectacular progress in the last 40 years. Medicine and communications have been especially fertile. A heart attack is a recoverable event as is cancer. A host of drugs can treat everything from impotence to Parkinson’s. And I can hold in my hand a device that can communicate with anyone in the world and provides access to the sum total of human knowledge.

    To the extent that government has helped with this, it has been through supporting basic research, keeping taxes low and upholding patent law (although it’s now doing too much of the latter). Whenever it has tried to get its hands dirty with specific technologies, it has inevitably screwed the pooch. The solution to our inadequacies — in space exploration and energy — is not a Manhattan-Project level initiative. It’s a combination of supporting basic research while giving corporations the freedom — economic, scientific and regulatory — to innovate.

    I do think the pace of innovation has slowed and I think it may be inevitable. The things he describes — flight, nuclear power, rocketry — were big straight-forward problems that had big straight-forward solutions. The innovations of the next century — clean energy, fighting antibiotic resistant infections, slowing down aging — are much more complex and detailed.

    The Bond Films: The Dalton Years

    Sunday, October 9th, 2011

    This won’t take long. The Timothy Dalton era, such as it was, was only two films. For my money, it was two decent but not great films. As a fan, I felt the series has taken a step up from the Moore years. But greatness was still a long way away.

    The Living Daylights: My favorite critic, James Berardinelli, dislikes this film but I just don’t see it. It’s got a decent plot, especially the post-credits sequence, which is based on a Fleming short story. It’s very much a spy story set in the Cold War. The actions scenes are good, the plot very spyish and Dalton injects a much-needed edge into Bond. As a kid — well, a teenager — I really liked this movie for bringing some fresh air to the franchise after the weakness of Moore’s last two outings.

    The movie is not without its flaws, particularly Maryam D’Abo. She’s just not a good Bond girl. She’s pretty, but she’s too skinny, too useless, too boring. She’s little more than a plot device. No, no even that. The plot would have gone just fine if Bond had dumped her in Bratislava. She mainly stands around and occasionally screams. If you’re going to narrow Bond’s sexual congress to a single girl, she has to be dynamite and Kara simply isn’t.

    One of the games I like to play when watching a flawed movie is imaging how it could have been better. One way would have been to make Kara a real assassin, or at least a real agent, possibly from a Czech service that had no love of the Russians. It might also have been interesting to cast a woman as Pushkin, not that I’m complaining about John Rhys-Davies’ fun performance.

    There are lot more changes in the franchise, not all for the better. Caroline Bliss takes over as Moneypenny but she’s a little too pretty for the role and doesn’t have the refined air that Lois Maxwell did (although it’s fun, in the next film, to see her in the old office set). John Terry makes his only appearance as Leiter, which is merciful as he’s the least effective actor in the role. Give me Jack Lord or Jeffrey Wright or David Hedison any day.

    Of course, the biggest change is Dalton. He is an improvement on Moore, but he’s not perfect. He seems to think he should be making a serious movie and gets annoyed when it gets Bondish, smirking his way through the romantic scenes. Dalton was a huge fan of the books and wanted the darker Bond Fleming portrayed. It works, to an extent. But it’s weak when Bond isn’t being dark or violent. The aforementioned Berardinelli once said the key to playing Batman is how you play Bruce Wayne. The key to playing an edgier darker Bond is how you play the romantic and humorous scenes. Dalton doesn’t quite there. That would have to wait for Daniel Craig.

    IMDB ranks Daylights 14th, toward the middle of the pack. That sounds about right to me. I give it a 7, sometimes and 8, depending on my mood at the time. It’s not bad. And it’s a blessed relief after the end of the Moore years.

    License to Kill: Boy, does this take me back in time to the early days of the drug war. My views on the War on Drugs did not form overnight. There was a time when I was a drug warrior, especially because of the horrific violence of the 80′s drug lords (as violent as this movie is, it understates the case). Watching this movie reminds me of the righteous anger I used to feel.

    Unlike the last film, the Bond girls shine in this one. I was 17 when this came out and developed a huge crush on the smoldering Talisa Soto. But as time has gone on, I’ve become more appreciative of Carey Lowell’s Pam Bouvier. She’s not as glamorous, but she’s fun and capable.

    Robert Davi is great as the vicious drug dealer Sanchez and this features an early appearance of Benicio del Toro. The action scenes — particularly the truck chase — range from great to solid. Dalton’s performance is about the same — mostly good, but weak in scenes where he needs to be funny or romantic.

    When I first saw it — and even now — the amount of violence is a bit bothersome. It includes some pretty brutal stuff — an offscreen evisceration, execution by atmospheric chamber, the brutality visited on the Leiters, etc. etc. But overall, I’d put it just a cut below Daylights. IMDB ranks this 17th in the Bond Series. Seems fair. I give it a 7.

    Weekend Linkorama

    Sunday, October 2nd, 2011
  • This video comparing Apollo footage to google maps, is soooo cool.
  • Lost books. I wish we could find them, as we recently found a lost Hitch movie.
  • A truly great expose of the corruption of college sports. I disagree with some of his conclusions, however.
  • The Looming Tower

    Sunday, October 2nd, 2011

    The Shakespeare Project has gotten delayed because I’ve been immersed in several other books. The Millenium Trilogy consumed a few weeks. It’s good, but not great. Larsson is skilled at building tension and drama, but the Gary Stuish nature of the protagonist threw me off as did the wallowing in sexual depravity (and moral color-coding of same: all the bad guys are sexual perverts; none of the good guys are).

    But I just finished a great non-fiction book called The Looming Tower. Here’s the review I just posted to Goodreads.

    Even though it’s five years old, this is probably the most important book you will ever read about 9/11. It only has a small section on the actual attack. The bulk of the book is about the rise of Al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden and the frustrating bureaucratic rules that kept key information away from the people who might have prevented the attack. The CIA does not come off well in this portrayal.

    Having read it, I feel I have a good read on Osama bin Laden. Without him, the Jihadists would probably still be killing each other and blowing up their own countries. It was he who united them and pointed their guns at the West. Even though it was ten years too late, his death was a critical blow to Islamic terrorism.

    But it also paints a broad picture of him that demonstrates what he really was: a charismatic ideology-addled rich kid who devoted himself to a radical ideal even he could not live up to but persuaded stupid young men to sacrifice themselves for. bin Laden believed in a system that reduced women to little more that possessions and forbad any pleasures, especially Western ones. But he married educated women, one of whom had a doctorate, he educated his daughters, played video games with his sons and listened to Western music. His beliefs were so absurd, even he rejected them in his life. It’s astonishing that only a few people realized just how dangerous and evil he was.

    The most frustrating part of the book is the prelude to 9/11, when the CIA had the information that could have spoiled the plot, but refused to share it with the FBI because of “the wall” and their pathological secrecy. Why on Earth Ali Soufan was not made head of our anti-terrorism efforts boggles the mind.