Sunday, September 30, 2007

If you aren't using

Google Reader to sort through your blog subscriptions, you're missing out. Aside from the ease of use and functional utility everyone expects from Google, who wouldn't want graphs like these?

Thursday, September 27, 2007

geek, extraordinaire

That should be my title, if you're ever looking for one. That's what my wife tells me, and I believe it well enough, but reading what Apple has in store makes it seem all the more clear. Not so much because of what Apple has in store, but moreso because I'm excited.

This should probably be an embarrassing thing to admit, but I'm excited about the new version of Mac OS coming next month. Now that you can't find the current version (10.4.x) for sale at the Apple store it seems apparent that 10.5 is coming very soon.

A few days ago Jen and I looked at a preview video of iWork, Apple's productivity suite. It's very cool and makes Microsoft's Office 2007 improvements look like cheap frosting on dry, crumbly cake. And at $80 for the suite it makes the Office pricetag seem even more outrageous.

And then there's VMware Fusion, which I'm very excited to try out. If you know anything about computers then you know that Mac and Windows are very different. If you know a little more about computers, then you also know that for a few years now you've been able to run Windows on new Mac computers. If you're slightly more clever (and willing to do more work) then you may be successful getting Mac to run on a native Windows machine. All that means that if you're a low-tech geek then you can do anything on a Mac and if you're a high-tech geek then you can have fun with Mac on anything. But with VMware's Fusion you can do anything on any Mac, any time and anywhere. And that's very, very cool.

This is the first time I've ever gotten excited about software, or at least the first time I'll admit such. I've been excited about music releases, new books for class, video games (sometimes), and movies but this is a first. I guess that makes me a geek, extraordinare.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Is it worth moving your car to a new parking meter to save a quarter?

I wondered this today as I visited a client in downtown for what was supposedly a short visit. Not wanting to dump too many quarters in the meter, I fed the pole sparingly and needed to run down twice to re-up my ante.

Each time the adjacent meter had some time left on it and my meter had expired. And it was no small amount of time either--25 and 45 minutes--so I did what I decided any rational person would do. I moved my vehicle to that meter and supplemented with an appropriate amount of change.

Then I wondered if it was worth it to start my vehicle and move it to the new meter position. Is it possible that I would spend more in gas starting and moving the car than I would save by pumping coins into the meter? Assuming that I had not actually been paying the wrong meter, saving 25 minutes saves about $0.25, or about 1/11th a gallon of gas. That's 0.091 gallons in savings, but it seems entirely likely that starting the engine costs the same or more.

This question is more circumstantial than it appears, given that vehicles with larger engines use more gas at startup. Drivers of these cars are usually also less concerned with the fuel cost of operating the vehicle (or else they would buy a vehicle with a smaller, less powerful and more fuel efficient engine), in part because the total cost of the vehicle is higher. Contrarily, drivers of vehicles that consume less fuel also pay less for the vehicle they drive, so it seems that whether you should move your car to save $0.25 or $0.50 depends as much on the type of driver you are as it does the cost of the fuel used to make the positional change.

Of course I'm unable to find any real idea how much it costs me to start my car and back it up 12 feet. I'm sure it's under $0.25 since each mile driven has cost me $0.18 so far. That's in the Honda V6 engine of my vehicle.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Can the BCS be fixed?

This question of course will be asked, and answered, every year until the BCS is actually fixed, or some new acronym assumes top rank in the bureaucracy of college football, but since I haven't written any run-on sentences (much less actual blog posts) in some time I feel that I should make some public comment.

Paragraph two should begin the reasons for a BCS change. The reasons are manifold but the most obvious are the lack of clarity in the crowning a national champion and the fact that every other NCAA sport uses a tournament or olympic-style championship system (including the other NCAA football divisions, which I've blahgged about here.)

So can the BCS be fixed? Probably only when pride and money move over, which will not be soon, or when we have a legitimate contender left out of the championship game enough times to create an irreversible stir. Remember that this happened in 2003 when USC won a share of the national title despite not playing in the championship game and 2004 when Auburn was undefeated but without the chance of playing for the title when USC played Oklahoma (both undefeated, as was Urban Meyer's Utah and now-fan favorite Boise State). And it's possible, though unlikely, that four heavyweights (USC, LSU, Oklahoma, and West Virginia) could finish this season undefeated. That would be enough of a stir, I think, to cause an immediate BCS amendment (for 2008). But what we need is a permanent fix.

A common suggestion is a simple four-team playoff. This would solve most of the problems and add a few new bowls (and bowl revenue), but this really only delays more anger and conflict. It would have seemed to work last year, pitting favorites Ohio State, Florida, LSU, and Michigan against each other, but simple reflection shows this to be a false solution. Remember that these teams had already faced each other previously in the year (Ohio State and Michigan in the final game of the year) and that LSU only gained its rank because Arkansas lost in the SEC championship game. An Arkansas win would have kicked Florida out (last year's national champions) and would have likely re-matched Ohio State and Michigan. Both of these teams lost bowls. Michigan lost handily to USC, which was ranked 5 in the BCS and clearly one of the elite. So the headache continues, but don't forget that this BCS solution would last year have only pitted teams from two BCS conferences in the championship. The other three conferences would have none of that.

The null hypothesis (or second null, I suppose) is the 64-team tournament bracket, but this is obviously too large since only 120 teams play I-A football. A 32-team bracket may work, but this would be 5 games more to win the championship--an impossibly difficult task. In any case, certain teams would require an off week as a benefit of the top-ranking and incentive to make the season interesting but even a 24-team playoff with 8 teams taking a free week leaves 5 weeks of playoffs.

If four is too few teams and thirty-two is too many then we're left with eight to sixteen teams to play for the national championship. Since it seems reasonable that some teams deserve a free week in addition to their top seed we're left at twelve teams, four weeks, eleven games, and one champion. But not all problems are yet solved.

This reduces the number of bowl games drastically (from 27, I think, to now 11) and decreases revenue substantially for teams until drastic restructuring occurs. Since schools use bowl money to fund football it only makes sense that television revenue from the playoff tournament is divided among the conferences represented in each game, each participant taking an equal share of the games value. This works well since the winning team then contributes more money in the next matchup. Conferences then could (should) distribute this money across all teams with bonuses to the teams that played in the tournament.

Certainly this format leaves out smaller teams and smaller conferences, which are unlikely to have a presence in the tournament most years. It may be possible to create a format that guarantees each conference's champion a tournament birth as a play-in should they not meet the requirements for tournament selection, but with 11 conferences that would mean as many as 6 play-in teams in some years and that would be a tricky system. In that case, a 5-week 24-team playoff seems most desirable.

In any case, the season must be shortened so that conference championships occur earlier. With a maximum of ten regular season games, 4 weeks of playoffs would not be any more games than most bowl teams play presently. Even with 10 games +/- a conference championship the twelve team playoff tournament seems both a feasible and reasonable alternative to our current system.

So why hasn't Myles Brand thought of this? Actually I'm sure Myles Brand has considered this and many other alternative formats. The real question we want answered is why hasn't he taken the necessary action? Is it money or power? He's the head of the NCAA. No journalist, team, or conference has power over him because they are members of his organization. He can, if he wishes, simply enact whatever is necessary to crown an appropriate champion for Division I-A college football.

So maybe instead of talking about how we think the college football champion should be decided, petition me to the NCAA as a replacement to Myles. I promise I would use that power for good and a more clear picture of which team is really the best in college football.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Because real life is always better than stuff you can make up

A Gamestop manager decided to creative an incentive for good grades by not allowing kids with bad grades to purchase games. Apparently this was not in line with the corporate policy of making as much money as possible.

But what's so wrong with video games? Well, apparently playing games for three days straight is not good for your health.


Sunday, September 16, 2007

Jokes for nerds

Here are two adaptations of common jokes which I'm sure you won't enjoy (at least, not as much as I do.) If you're not offended by the jokes, get a little nerdier by reading Greg Mankiw's editorial on an international carbon tax. (And if you're particularly nerdy, see if you can pick out the sentence in his article that carries the same implied theory as the first joke.)

Joke #1: Two economists are walking down the sidewalk when one spots a twenty-dollar bill and stops to bend over and pick it up. His friend wisely slaps his hand and says, "If that were a real twenty-dollar bill, someone would have already picked it up."

Joke #2: A few statisticians are in a bar prospecting their odds at dates for the weekend when Bill Gates walks in. One of the statisticians becomes very excited and exclaims, "Hooray! On average, we all just got richer!"

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

A post on chance, on the off chance that it will make Myles mad

Now how likely is that? I gave Myles a hard time about Greg Maddux's apparent tough luck after he suggested that a recent stretch of well-pitched but seldom-won games is a rather common event for Maddux and quite uncommon for every other pitcher. I thought that having such a stretch (in which Maddux threw 20 strikeouts, 2 walks, 1 win, 2 losses, and 3 no-decisions with a 2.57 ERA) should not at all be uncommon in any pitcher as great (or lucky) as Maddux who has been able to endure such a tenure in the major leagues.

Steven Dubner recently wrote about the Texas Rangers scoring 30 runs in one game and how unusual he thought it was that in setting the Major League record for runs scored the Rangers actually scored in only 4 of 9 innings. That means that in the course of one game this team failed to score in more than half of all attempts (5 of 9) yet still scored the most runs ever in a 9 inning game. How odd is that?

Well, maybe not so odd after all. What is more unusual, he suggests, is our ability to predict randomness. On a similar topic Steven Levitt muses that for the Kansas City Royals to tie a record losing streak is actually not that noteworthy. Though a worthwhile read I'll summarize it for you: we expect too much uniformity out of randomness. That's why we expect the Royals, who we don't expect to win very many games, to win at least one out of four. It doesn't matter that they'll end up averaging one out of four for the year--we expect one out of every four. Furthermore we like to think that when they've lost 15 or so consecutive games that this is not a normal behavior but an unusual circumstance.

Likewise we expect that when the Rangers post thirty runs in nine innings they would do such in a "more orderly" manner. We just don't tend to like random events and feel much more comfortable with uniformity. If the Royals should win one out of every four games but haven't won in twelve contests, then they're due to win the next four. Although we expect Greg Maddux to lose well-pitched contests from time to time, we don't expect a string of such contests to happen so close together.

Levitt suggests this: predict the results of 25 coin flips, then flip a coin 25 times. Compare your prediction versus the actual results and see how comfortable you feel about randomness. Maybe then you'll have a little less surprise, though no less empathy, for Greg's tough luck. Or maybe not.

Something worth checking out

Reading the freakonomics blog always seems to turn up something interesting (much like reading their book), but indexed is one of the better sites I've seen in a long time. Who can turn away from such an appropriate use of Venn diagrams?