Friday, August 14, 2009

Hippies Unite!

From Burning Man's terms of service, implicitly agreed to by all revelers, burners, hippies, technophiles, utopians, sex addicts, and weirdos who shell out the $250-300 for the privilege of attending Black Rock City, LLC's annual festival of lust, dust, expression, emotion, art, fire, and all of the other things you are not likely to see in a typical Catholic Church Easter Sunday celebration, unless you catch the Pope in a really good mood and looking to use up the rest of his fireworks budget:

UNDERSTAND AND ACCEPT THAT NO USE OF IMAGES, FILM, OR VIDEO OBTAINED AT THE EVENT MAY BE MADE WITHOUT PRIOR WRITTEN PERMISSION FROM BURNING MAN, OTHER THAN PERSONAL USE. I understand that I have no rights to make any non-personal use of any image, film, or video footage obtained at the event, and that I cannot sell, transfer, or give the footage or completed film or video to any other party, except for personal use, and I agree to inform anyone to whom I give any footage, film, or video that it can only be used for personal use. [emphasis original]

But wait, there's more. Further down:

Holder's image may be captured on film, video or photographs without holder's consent and without compensation ... Holder hereby appoints Burning Man as his or her representative to protect his or her intellectual property or privacy rights, recognizing that Burning Man has no obligation to take any such action.

Take that, friends of free information.

What is Burning Man's justification for this? For one of two answers we can turn to that other agent of turning the desires of affluent artistic-hipster aesthete types into constant supplies of gold via surprisingly user-unfriendly methods, Apple. As I wrote last week, Apple recently killed the "life-changing" Google Voice program, solely on the grounds the Google Voice *might* at compete with a program that Apple *might* release sometime in the future. Black Rock City, LLC, is a for-profit entity, which pays its full-time employees a good living, allowing them to spend their year focusing on making the event the best it could be instead of scrounging for funds. BRC also showers plenty of money on a number of art installations and foundations. Given that BRC is clearly willing to do good by doing well, it makes sense -- and is right -- that the company should look to maximize its revenue stream, and that can come in the form of officially-licensed videos, books, and other as-though-your-were-there materials. I would wager that BM 2008 took in something in the neighborhood of eight to ten million dollars in ticket revenue, assuming 50,000 people (best estimate I can get), each shelling out (conservatively) $175-250 per person. This sounds like a lavish amount, but given various taxes and fees -- you don't think the Bureau of Land Management allows use of that land for free, do you -- plus expenses and salaries, that money can disappear faster than you think. Ask any small-business owner. If BM could charge $100 for as-though-you-were-there video sets and memorabilia, then it could spend that much more on making the festival better. It's not, after all, as though Disney World would be so marvelous if the Disney Company were reduced to looking for quarters in the street. And the what-the-market-will-bear price becomes that much lower of the official BRC-produced stuff has to compete with homemade videos.

Protecting that market value means, above all, protecting the brand. BRC has a vested interest in making sure that anything that reaches the public with the name "Burning Man" emblazoned on it fall in with BRC-approved themes and meets BRC-approved standards. If, in theory, anti-BM types started, to use an extreme example, circulating doctored photos of babies being slaughtered and eaten (or something equally offensive), photos carrying the Burning Man label, then the event would be forever tarnished in the eyes of many people who would otherwise attend, and the event might even find itself under strong political opposition. As the T & C state:

Use other than personal use of images from Burning Man, or of drawings or representations of the Burning Man sculpture on a book cover or in any advertisement, or of the phrase "Burning Man" in the title of any publication or in any advertisement, is prohibited without prior written consent of Burning Man

And the brand is not the only thing BRC needs to protect. Privacy is another. As a general rule, if I make a video of an event, then before I can distribute it I need the permission of everyone in it -- especially is this video is being sold, whether for profit or charity. BRC has such permission already as a condition of participants' buying tickets (see above). But while many professional photographers are conscientious enough to get their subjects' OK, a number of amateurs would not, and in the process leak into the outside world pictures of people doing what they'd rather their bosses, friends, family, and neighbors (and in some cases the law) not see, and the pictures would leak out without their even knowing it. Were that two happen, BRC would almost certainly be the target of the lawsuit, to say nothing of the problems to which the unwitting photo subjects would be subjected for a long time to come.

In short, Burning Man is a business, run by a for-profit company, and the hosting organization has the right to tell its customers what they can and cannot do within the bounds of the event for which the organization will be held responsible.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Checking Back with the Yankees

Way back in the dark days of March, I listed betting the New York Yankees to win fewer than 95 games this year as one of the more solid bets baseball had to offer. In a follow-up post I pegged the Yanks " ... as more of a high-80s team with 92- 93-win upside, maybe a 30-35% chance of getting to 95 ... ". With two thirds of the year in the rearview mirror, New York's 69-43 record puts the Pinstripes squarely on a 100-win pace. Baseball Prospectus's (sadly proprietary, but still hugely useful) PECOTA projections have the Yankees winning 99 games. BP now ranks the Yanks as the best team in the American League.

Assuming I was right about New York's having only a 30-35% chance of winning 95 or more games, where did I go wrong?

Again we will turn to PECOTA, which not only spits about projections for each major-league player, but does so with a useful feature lacking in other projection systems: Error bars. PECOTA assigns different levels of performance to each player. A "20th percentile" projection means that a player had, as seen by PECOTA, an 80% chance of reaching this level. His 90th percentile projection suggested the player had only a 10% chance of hitting this level of performance. Here's the Yankees' current lineup, compared to their expectations.

    1B - Mark Teixeira: .935 OPS, close to 75th percentile projection of .952. 4th among regular AL first basemen.
    2B - Robinson Cano: .858 OPS, above 90th percentile of .856, 1st among regular AL second basemen
    SS - Derek Jeter: .828 OPS, above 75th percentile of .811, 3rd among AL shortstops
    3B - Alex Rodriguez: .871 OPS below weighted mean of .921, but still 3rd among AL third basemen
    LF - Johnny Damon: .875 OPS, 2nd among AL left-fielders and his highest in nine years, close to 90th percentile of .890
    CF1 - Melky Cabrera: .812 OPS, above 75th percentile of .786
    CF2 - Brett Gardner: .748 OPS, near 75th percentile of .759
    CF overall - Yankees are fifth in the the league in center-field OPS at .781
    RF - Nick Swisher: .828 OPS, above 60th percentile of .816. Overall New York is fourth in the AL in right-field OPS at .853
    C - Jorge Posada: .885 OPS, second among AL catchers to only Mauer the Great in Minnesota's 1.080, close to 90th percentile projection of .902
    DH - Hideki Matsui: .858 OPS, third among DHs, right at 75th percentile of .855

Of the eleven players manning the ten lineup spots only Alex Rodriguez, an inner-circle Hall of Famer whose illustrious past pushes his projections to sometimes-unreasonable heights, is playing to the lower end of his expected performance range and even he is still the third-best hitter in the league at his position. *Eight* of the eleven are near, at, or above their 75th percentiles, meaning that PECOTA, the most sophisticated and accurate publicly-available projection system the game has to offer saw only a 25% chance of these players hitting at their current levels. Put another way, relative to position norms, New York's third-worst hitter is Teixeira, whose OPS ranks "only" fourth among AL first-sackers but who just happens to lead the league (in a tie) in home runs, is third in runs batted in, and is carrying a .382 on-base average to boot.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

And Here We Go ...

"Google Voice — one of the best things to happen to telephony services in a very long time — will have no presence at all on the App Store. If there’s ever been a time to be furious with Apple, now is it." Worth noting that it appears that AT&T, not Apple per se, is behind the removal of Google Voice, but it points to the central weakness of having only a central repository for iPhone apps, a repository controlled exclusively by one organization.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Best Blog Post of the Week in the Whole World Wide Web

Anyone who sees the national government's takeover of Americans' health care as a mostly-positive thing, let alone a wonderful thing, should read this. Key point: We already have one industry controlled almost exclusively by the feddies, and that's the defense industry. And as McArdle writes, the defense industry "... does not have an encouraging record of cost-effective, innovative procurement." Proponents of government-controlled health care need to answer a) why the government's healthcare-procurement agency's weighing of innovation versus deployment versus cost would be any more efficient than the Pentagon's AND b) if not, then whether a Pentagon-like health-care agency is better than what we have today and will have tomorrow in lieu of radical changes. What do I propose in lieu of government medicine? I propose nothing, on the simple grounds that the burden of proof is on those who wish to overhaul 15-20% of our national economy and put it in the hands of an organization that has a decades-long and deserved reputation as one of the least-efficient large organizations in North America.

Do we really want the people who brought us the TSA to control how we take care of ourselves?

And Another Dream is Realized

Chris Tillman, a six-foot-five, 200-pound, 21-year-old right-hander for the Baltimore Orioles will make his major-league debut tonight at Oriole Park at Camden Yards in Baltimore against Kansas City. First pitch is set for 6:05 PM CST ... I hope I get to see it. It's great fun watching a young kid appear in his first major-league game, regardless of what my rooting interest might be. Watching the culmination of a dream, a life's work, is always special. Millions of boys across the world play baseball in any given summer, but fewer than a thousand can be on one of the thirty major-league teams' rosters in a season. Congratulations and best wishes to young Mr. Tillman, beater of thousands-to-one odds.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Best Compliment You Can Give a Book

From Tyler Cowen: "This comes when, after you finish a book, you are still so wrapped up in it that you can't bring yourself to pick up another one and leave behind the mental and emotional world from the previous book."

Amen, Mr. Cowen. Amen. That's exactly how I felt after finishing Neal Stephenson's Anathem. Ditto Shane, Jaws, The Godfather, Lonesome Dove, and any number of Stephen King novels and short stories ("Grey Matter" from the Night Shift collection is my favorite of those). I have never, ever felt that way about a Dean Koontz book.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Porn Trumps God. Yay!

Stumbled across an old article from anti-libertarian conservative Jonah Goldberg in which he references a work (cannot find a cite) by Reason contributer Virginia Postrel in which Postrel apparently writes that Americans spend eight billion dollars a year on porn compared to three billion on Christian books.

Stuff like this bothers the Goldberg types no end, but it's one of the things that give me hope for America.

Best News I Will Hear Today!

Women are getting more beautiful. Michele is living proof of this.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

iPhone Irritations. Or, Why Apple is Llike the Soviet Union

InfoWorld has a great article on the irritations incurred by one developer who tried to get a simple program approved for Apple's iPhone.

This, in a nutshell, is the problem with the iPhone, and, as I've written before. It's not that the centralized review process doesn't have some advantages, but it comes at a big cost. In addition to developers' resistance to heavily investing in an app that has a high chance of being rejected for arbitrary reasons, there's also the reality that Apple will kill (and probably already does) some iPhone apps only because they compete with similar and possibly lesser programs Apple *might* release down the road. Apple's deliberate monopolization of what can and cannot be installed on an iPhone cannot help but limit competition among iPhone tools and utilities, which in turn inevitably stifles innovation within that platform. And as TFA notes, centralized governing/approval processes have a long history of scaling very poorly and sometimes disastrously. Windows would have very little market share if every ISV had to get MS's explicit permission before getting its programs to install on Windows.

It might take two or three years, but there's little doubt in my mind that the iPhone will lose any utility advantage it has to other, more open phones, and its market share will go with it.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Break and Grow

William Saletan at Slate has an article up. It centers around a woman named Hajnal Ban, now 31, who eight years ago voluntarily underwent a "treatment" in which doctors deliberately broke bones in both her legs, then slowly stretched them out. Nine months later, Ban was three inches taller.

Saletan's main point is that traditional medicine has relied on restoring people to a healthy or at least less-unhealthy state, with "healthy state" determined by that person's own baseline. In Ban's case, however, doctors were treating her to correct not a flaw relative to her own baseline state, but a flaw relative to a social-standard baseline, which is, as Saletan puts it, "dictated by others." At first blush, this feels like more of the "therapy and restoration versus enhancement" discussions which will only grow stronger as the years (and medical advances) pass, but there is another bit here ... a number of people, usually but not always of self-described "spiritual" bent, often complain that too many people are too focused on living up to other people's expectations, at the expense of fulfilling their own desires and needs and missing out on what makes them special. While I don't wholeheartedly buy into this -- if nothing else, keeping up with the Joneses is an important driver of developing the richly-abundant society we enjoy today, but that is fodder for another post -- there is a lot to it. Do we really want to encourage people to undergo surgery, especially procedures which, as is true in Ban's case, "can cause nerve damage, joint damage, arthritis, and chronic pain", all to pursue some ideal of what they think other people want them to be? It's also worth noting that Ban herself now questions whether she would do it again: "I guess had I not had this operation I probably wouldn't be insecure about my height at this age because I would just accept who I am. As you get older as a woman I think you become more mellow and you become more comfortable in your own skin.
Saletan loses me, though, with his closing paragraph:
So here's the question: How far should we let cosmetic surgery go? If [Connie Culp, the woman who received the face transplant] is a compelling case against prohibition, isn't Ban a compelling case for regulation? How much trauma and risk should we let people endure for the sake of looking the way we want them to look, especially when they might otherwise learn to accept themselves as they are? I'm all for freedom. But cosmetic leg-breaking? Isn't that a stretch?
This is, of course, way too authoritarian for my taste. Property rights begin with one's own body, and while I agree with people who are reluctant to fund such procedures out of their tax dollars, the reasons to prohibit them are strongly outweighed by a people's right to adjust and modify their bodies as the can and see fit.

Thursday, June 25, 2009


With this bit of hoosoofroo Diamonds & Emeralds celebrates its 100th post in the six months since its noble birth. OK, it's not the most blistering blogging pace imaginable, but such quality takes time to craft (HA!). A milestone of which I'm a bit proud nonetheless.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

This is Totally Cool

New York Times rolls a piece on the hyper-secretive, security-obsessed culture at Apple. My guess is that it's unlikely to change after Jobs leaves.

Money graph:
Secrecy at Apple is not just the prevailing communications strategy; it is baked into the corporate culture. Employees working on top-secret projects must pass through a maze of security doors, swiping their badges again and again and finally entering a numeric code to reach their offices, according to one former employee who worked in such areas.

Work spaces are typically monitored by security cameras, this employee said. Some Apple workers in the most critical product-testing rooms must cover up devices with black cloaks when they are working on them, and turn on a red warning light when devices are unmasked so that everyone knows to be extra-careful, he said.

To me, this by itself is almost reason to avoid Apple's stock -- I'm not a fan of the black-box approach -- but cool nonetheless, no?

Wednesday, June 10, 2009


Brink Lindsey riffs with David Frum on today's

And yes, I do have an intellectual man-crush on Brink.

Bob Wright Kicks All Manner of Ass, Or, I Read Books so You Don't Have To

Philosopher, historian, commentator, grand poo-bah of the mighty site Bob Wright has a new book out, modestly entitled The Evolution of God. I would have preferred something a bit more grandiose, like The Almighty: A Memoir or Me 'n' the Lord: Bob Wright and God Through History, but this is good enough. Cato Unbound has an adapted excerpt from Wright here.

Gist: The more groups think in terms of zero-sum (the number of resources available to all groups is fixed, so every dollar/job/widget/worshipper/soul/whatever Group A gets is a dollar/job/widget/worshipper/soul that Group B can't get) the less tolerance groups will tend to show about their differences (Group B will often find itself at war, both metaphorically and literally, with Group A), while the more groups think in terms of non-zero-sum (occasionally called "enlightened self-interest") the more likely they are to be tolerant and interact, since the focus shifts from fighting over who gets which piece of the pie to growing the overall size of the pie. This is an argument Wright has put forth in other books, most notably Nonzero, and articles and here he uses it to describe the interplay (or, all too often, lack of same) among religions.

There. To paraphrase Peter Griffin, I just saved you seventeen bucks and a number of likely boring, boobless hours. Possibly boring and likely boobless though it might be, The Evolution of God will be making its way to my reading list. This is a smart guy who writes smart stuff and in today's world more than ever, such stuff should not be ignored.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Oh Boo Fucking Hoo

The Atlantic magazine has a piece ("And the Recession Came for Hipsters") on how the decline in the investor class's net worth is impacting their do-nothing spawn, and the neighborhoods they infest.

Here at the Atlantic, we have considered the impact of the recession on Americans responsible for making investments, and making cars, and making students. But how about the impact on Americans responsible for making, well, nothing at all? Now the recession has hit New York hipsterdom and Williamsburg wallets are feeling skinner than a pair of Levi's 511s.

According to the New York Times, the trust-fund kids who have helped gentrify Williamsburg, Brooklyn, are feeling the pinch of recession as their parents' withering savings accounts can no longer afford to cover their zero-income lifestyle:

Famed for its concentration of heavily subsidized 20-something residents -- also nicknamed trust-funders or trustafarians -- Williamsburg is showing signs of trouble. Parents whose money helped fuel one of the city's most radical gentrifications in recent years have stopped buying their children new luxury condos, subsidizing rents and providing cash to spend at Bedford Avenue's boutiques and coffee houses.

The upside and downside of this development is pretty clear. Williamsburg real estate prices have skyrocketed in the last few years -- partially on account of incomes that weren't earned in Williamsburg -- so this should help the little 'burg move toward the rest of Brooklyn in terms of affordability. It is, it must be said, unfortunate for anybody to have their lives shaken dramatically by the recession, but much as the downturn has fostered a culture of responsibility and savings, so too should the demise of trustafarianism make the sons and daughters of the affluent more cognizant of basic human things like bottom lines and debt. The ability to pursue your life dreams in your early twenties on the back of your parents' earnings is a kind of awesome gig, but in the long term it insulates you from an understanding of what life costs. A society predicated on incurring costs that it doesn't have to acknowledge is doomed too...oh wait. Nevermind that.

Tough times all around indeed.

Friday, June 5, 2009

More on the Joy of Gambling

Before the season started I posited that betting against the Yankees' winning 96 or more games ( soon after dropped the over/under from 95.5 to 94.5) was a good deal. A recent hot streak after a very mediocre start, though, has them on a pace to threaten that 96-win barrier. Their 31-21 record (through June 2) puts them on a 97-win pace. Baseball Prospectus's proprietary "PECOTA" projections currently have them looking at 97 wins as well.

So how are they doing it?

In a nutshell, offense. While New York's pitching staff is only 12th out of fourteen in earned-run average (all numbers per ESPN's Web site), it is tied for the AL in runs scored with 300, 46 total runs above the league average. They are second in batting average, second in home runs, and fourth in bases on balls, all leading to a number-one ranking in on-base average, that most important of batting stats, and a second-to-Texas rank in slugging average. Driving the train are Derek Jeter, who three weeks shy of his 35th birthday has arrested a two-year slide and is now hitting .319 with power; Johnny Damon (.301 with 10 home runs and a .536 SLG); and Hideki Matsui, whose .500 SLG is tied for third among DHs. For the most part, the Yankees' run production has been driven more by balance than anything else. The only position at which they to date have received below-average production has been third base, where they now have Hall of Famer Alex Rodriguez returning from injury.

I'm still pretty comfortable in picking them to fall below the standard. Jeter and Damon in particular are playing over their heads considering their advancing ages and the pitching staff has shown nothing to inspire real confidence. Plus the age- and durability-related injury risks remain.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

The Joy of Gambling puts the price on the Lakers' winning the NBA Finals against the Orlando at -260, meaning that 260 dollars need to be put at risk to win 100. The break-even point for this bet is 61.5 per cent, so Sportsbook's customers collectively see LA as having a 60 or so per cent chance of winning. That seems a tick high to me -- the Magic are playing beautifully right now, but so is Los Angeles, which after an inconsistent start to these playoffs simply dismantled a good Denver team in the last two games of the West final. The Lakers at their best are unbeatable by any team in the NBA.

Thought for the Day

From commenter Talisman on a Slashdot thread regarding the usefulness of expert opinion:

"The most productive problem solving I've ever done, and still do, is when I'm surrounded by smart people who don't believe their personal ego should factor into any decision made."


Monday, June 1, 2009

It's the Gators' World, and the Rest of Us are Just Living in It

The inimitable, awesome, and all-around god-like Matt "Dr. Saturday" Hinton has been running a series on the likeliest contenders for college football's 2009 national championship. As his last in the series, he comes to the likeliest of the likely, the stackedest of the stacked, the defending champion Florida Gators. It is not hard to see why he labels the Orange and Blue as the team with the best shot at ascending to the throne (or, in UF's case, retaining it): The Mighty Gators return their perennial Heisman Trophy-contender quarterback in Tim Tebow, pretty much every important player from a defense that was ninth in the country in fewest yards against and fourth in fewest points, and a stable of explosive athletes, all coached by Urban Meyer, who has as good an argument as anyone for being the best coach in college football.

If there is one chink in the armor, however, it's Florida's propensity to lose games it should not lose (a trait shared by two of college football's other reigning monoliths, LSU and Southern California): to Mississippi in 2008, to lower/unranked-ranked teams Auburn, Georgia, and Michigan, plus a loss to LSU in a game UF had controlled for most of the night in 2007, and to Auburn in their national-title season of 2006. The Gators overcame the '06 loss in part because they played such an impressively-difficult schedule. The '09 slate, which misses Alabama and Ole Miss, two of the SEC West's three power teams, might lack such opportunities to wow voters, meaning Florida will probably have to run the table to play for the crystal football (valued at $30,000). Fortunately, no team in the country, not even mighty USC, which has to replace its star quarterback and much of its defense, is better suited for such a run.

In response, by the way, to Hinton's column is this one luscious, to-be-savored comment from poster Erik, who tells the world that he "wouldn't piss on the gayturds if they where on fire."

You stay classy, Internet message-board denizens.

The Inevitable is Inevitable for a Reason

General Motors files for bankruptcy.

Will this work?

From the Wall Street Journal's piece: "Long hampered by laws, union strife and management practices that kept it from fast action to fix problems, GM plans to eliminate almost all of its debt, halve its U.S. brands, shutter 2,600 dealers and rewrite labor contracts almost overnight."

But just how is all of that, particularly the last, going to happen? Consider the following:

  • The United States national government owns GM.
  • The United States national government is run by the Democratic Party, which controls both houses of Congress (and has a filibuster-proof proof majority in the Senate) and the Presidency.
  • One of the party's most loyal and vociferous supporters is the United Auto Workers union.
  • If the government succeeds in redoing the costly labor deals, then then the UAW would likely take the heaviest hit.
  • Damned few political parties in history have deliberately taken action that materially hurts a large and powerful constituency.

If we assume that all of the above are true, then how is the government going to "rewrite labor contracts almost overnight", or allow anyone else to do so? And can a post-bankruptcy, clean-slate GM really be competitive if it is still saddled with the burdens of pre-bankruptcy UAW labor commitments? The UAW has supposedly signed off on concessions, but will it be enough, given that the U.S. car market is little more than half what it was a few years ago and increasing numbers of people who are buying are shunning the large, gas-guzzling SUVs and trucks which have long been the company's (and industry's) most profitable vehicles?

An even better question than will this work ... why should we care? Other than that about thirty billion of our dollars are at stake?

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Brother Gets Bigger

Slashdot, via the Washington Post, has on its site a report that Obama is going to name an "Internet Czar". From the WP article: "Obama was briefed a week ago and signed off on the creation of the position". That's it? A week? Given the myriad other responsibilities a 21st-century American president has, plus the additional burdens Obama has taken on himself (like running the U.S. auto industry), it is hard to imagine that the chief executive and his senior staff spent all that much time working the various pros and cons of creating such a position.

By the way, Mr. President, how's that Drug Czar thing working out?

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The Great Debates of Man

In the 40,000 or so years of human history, 99 per cent of instances of sexual intercourse, both homo- and hetero-, would meet contemporary definitions of rape. True or false?

Friday, May 15, 2009

Greatest. Article. Title. Ever

Scientific American proudly presents "Secrets of the Phallus". It's a good read in its own way, but is disappointingly informative (see below). Not nearly the kind of smut Americans have come to expect from the hallowed pages of Scientific American. Or would expect, if the universe were just. Anyhoo, it's a good article, though the part about the penis's being shaped so the male can, in effect, scoop out/away the semen left by the female's immediately-previous suitors is something that I've read a few times before, although I can't for the life of me remember where.

And in case you prefer doing these kinds of things in your own home, the article also goes out its way to post a recipe for creating simulated semen, brought to us by Florida Atlantic University evolutionary psychologist Todd Shackleford (heaven knows how much time he spent coming up with just the right mix). The recipe:

  • 0.08 cups of "sifted, white, unbleached flour"
  • mix with 1.06 cups of water
  • simmer for 15 minutes while stirring
  • allow to cool

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The Day in Web

Greg Wyshinski's line, "... like a Weeble dropped on a trampoline ..." wins the line-of-the-day award, and possibly for the week. I wasn't thinking about Weebles or trampolines until I read his Puck Daddy column this morning, and now dropping Weebles on a trampoline is all I wanna do. Now if only I had the Weebles. Or the trampoline ...

Last month I wrote about sports storylines I was following. Among them was the growing hockey rivalry between Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin. Well, they are meeting head-to-head in the Eastern Conference semifinals and Igloo Dreams has a writeup of tonight's winner-take-all Game 7.

As the (apparent) worst of our little financial correction recedes into the rear-view mirror, the Wall Street Journal reports($) that Congress is thinking of getting involved in how banks compensate their executives. The problems with this are too long to list in depth here, but the most important one is the same as with all government involvement: The government is rarely both objective and competent. People often think of government as an unbiased arbiter, but, at least in a democracy, government officials respond to their own incentives and pressures and "objectivity" gets left by the door in the rush to reward political friends and punish political enemies. And even when they are being unbiased and are sincerely looking for the best courses of action available, they too often lack the expertise to know what they're doing. Would you want Congress setting your pay?

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Libertarian Alert!

OK, so it's not millions of people massing in the streets, but each time we get articles like this, America gets a little bit closer to ending the lunacy that is the War on Drugs and becoming a freer, more moral society in the process.

I'm lukewarm, for what it's worth, about the good-for-the-economy argument. It is valid and makes a lot of sense, but I would prefer if more people took heed of the immoral nature of denying reasonable, consenting adults their right to feel pleasure however they see fit as long as they aren't tangibly and directly hurting other people.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Random Brain Leakage

On the mental radio: Village People's "In the Navy".

Friday, April 17, 2009

Future for a Friday, Gird-Yourself-America, Edition

Louisiana state senator Danny Martiny (R) is sponsoring a bill that would ban human-animal hybrids. As a transhumanist, I say we might as well have this fight now, because the expanding/evolving definition of "human" and what that definition means to "human rights", citizenship, etc., will be THE defining domestic-policy dispute of the 21st century.

Those who wish to remain politically aware, active, and relevant in the coming decades would do well to start brushing up on this now.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

200 Reasons I Love Sports (200-191)

I love sports because ...

200. The 2009 NBA Eastern Conference semi-finals. The East has three good teams: Cleveland, Boston, and Orlando are all legitimate contender for the world's title, but only two of the three can reach the East final. Most likely scenario has Boston and the Magic playing each other for the right to face LeBron and the Cavs.
199. Gump Worsley. The world needs more Gump Worsley
198. There's a new event very nearly every night.
197. Major-league baseball's All-Star Game. I kvetch about it every year. It's a waste of time. It disrupts the pennant races. No one takes it seriously. Then each year I watch it.
196. Ditto the NBA's All-Star Game, to a lesser degree
195. Kvetching about the NFL's Pro Bowl and then *not* watching it.
194. Super Bowl parties
193. Not attending Super Bowl parties and instead focusing on the game.
192. Bunting on the stadium stands during baseball's postseason games.
191. The tension before the puck drops at the beginning of a rivalry hockey game

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

And Kentucky's Election Thieves Win the Prize

... for being the first, presumably, to commit documented voting-machine fraud. Congratulations!

The fraud is actually kinda slick and exploits two key points of weakness: a difference between what the printed instructions say and what the system actually does, and people's unfamiliarity with a system they use maybe once or twice a year, a system of which they have no real under-the-hood understanding. The gist of the attack was this:

1) There are different types of voting machines used by the same vendor. Some of the machines, manufactured by Omaha-based Election Systems & Software, use the "cast vote" button as the last step in the process. Other machines of the same model family (the "iVotronic") use "cast vote" as the second to last step in the process. In these machines, which were used in the fraud, the cast-vote button prompts the user to confirm.

2) The documented instructions for the second group of machines was written for the first group. The written instructions voters saw told them that cast-vote was the final step, even though it wasn't.

3) It was an inside job. After the voter pressed the cast-vote button -- which they were explicitly told by both the machine's written instructions and by in-on-the-scam polling-place officials was the last thing they needed to do -- but left before pressing confirm, a polling-place worker slipped into the booth, "corrected", shall we say, the ballot, and then confirmed, making the worker's vote the official vote recorded by the system.

There is one way, and only one way to do electronic-voting right: The voter MUST leave with a hard-copy receipt of their vote. That, of course, doesn't matter if voters are told by corrupt officials that they don't need receipts or that the machine doesn't give them. But keeping people inside the system from subverting the system is the eternal challenge of security, and the receipt system requires that *all* workers of a given polling place be in on it. If only one non-rogue worker tells voters to not leave without their receipt, then this fraud cannot take place.

Fourth Annual Movie-Plot Threat Contest

Security guru Bruce Schneier is hosting his annual contest for people to submit their best "movie plot" terrorism threats. It is Schneier's belief that security measures built to defend against very specific threats (say, a bomb in a shoe) are destined to fail and are often used only to scare people. I'll let him explain the contest. From his newsletter:

Let's face it, the War on Terror is a tired brand. There just isn't enough action out there to scare people. If this keeps up, people will forget to be scared. And then both the terrorists and the terror-industrial complex lose. We can't have that.

We're going to help revive the fear. There's plenty to be scared about, if only people would just think about it in the right way. In this Fourth Movie-Plot Threat Contest, the object is to find an existing event somewhere in the industrialized world -- Third World events are just too easy -- and provide a conspiracy theory to explain how the terrorists were really responsible.

The goal here is to be outlandish but plausible, ridiculous but possible, and -- if it were only true -- terrifying. Entries should be formatted as a news story, and are limited to 150 words (I'm going to check this time) because fear needs to be instilled in a population with short attention spans.

Well, we can't very well have people walking around in states of non-fear. That just won't do at all.

If you're of an imaginative and scary mind, submit your entry here. Tips on how to write a good terrorism story can be found here

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Matthew Yglesias, Meet Idiocy. Idiocy, Matt

The normally-lucide Matthew (don't call him Matt) Yglesias posts this humdinger of a travashamockery at his ThinkPress blog. His core argument:

Now there’s a decent argument out there, familiar from Adam Smith and the whole tradition of economics, that a world full of greedy people isn’t necessarily quite the disaster that pre-modern ethical thinkers would have thought. This is all well and good. True even. But it’s a sign, I think, of a kind of sickness running through American society that we’ve lost the willingness to just say clearly that ceteris paribus greedy behavior is not virtuous behavior.

If that's not explicit enough, there's this:

... the best people are people who aren’t primarily driven by greed.

Fairly takes your breath away, this example of high-octane horseshit.

The view that greed and attempts to satisfy it are in and of themselves is common, but its commonness doesn't make it any more correct. To paraphrase P.J. O'Rourke's classic line, the entrepreneur who makes $500,000 a year and pays, say, $100,000 in taxes does massively more social good than the hippy tree-hugger who prattles on about the spiritual emptiness of consumerism, and -- this is the important part -- this remains true even if his primary or even sole motivation for running his business is making more money only for the sake of making more money. The beauty of capitalism is that, in a properly-functioning market, it harnesses people's natural greed and drives them to contribute more to the community welfare by providing goods and services that people want to buy out of the belief (possibly erroneous, but that often is a judgment others are not in a position to make) that those goods and services will make their lives better. Consider your favorite locally-owned restaurant. Does the proprietor care more about running a successful business or providing to the community? If it's the latter, why is he or she selling food at even one thin dime above cost? And if it's the former -- even if the proprietor cares *only* about turning a profit and maximizing that profit -- does that make the food taste any less good?

Note that I am not endorsing greed at the expense of others. When people satisfy their greed by extracting instead of creating value -- and the overheated housing market had plenty of these folk, people who could not have looked themselves in the mirror -- then that is wrong. But the problem there is usually dysfunctional or deeply asymmetrical markets and the solution is finding ways to make those markets function better. Two of the more reliable if not infallible ways of that are education and increased transparency. Demonizing those who provide good things to the rest of us with no concern for the rest of us gets us nowhere.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Viva la Revolucion!

Glory be! ESPN is using OPS (the sum of a batter's on-base and slugging averages) on its baseball telecasts! Even better, they're rolling out the stat the way a "new" stat (forget that OPS has been around since forever -- I myself figured it out preparing for a table-game draft in 1989 -- and has since been supplanted by OPS+, VORP, and others, it's new to the mainstream) should be rolled out: By providing context. Underneath each hitter's stat line is the league average OPS, instantly giving the viewer a standard by which to judge good from bad.

The sabermetric revolution continues to roll.

Sports Storylines, cont.

I mentioned yesterday that some of my springtime will be spent watching the Montreal/Boston NHL playoff series. This is provided, of course, that watching Habs/Bruins doesn't keep me from following the individual derring-do of Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby and Washington's Alexander Ovechkin. Sid the Kid and the Great Eight are nearly polar opposites, the former is a sweetly-skating center, the latter an explosive left wing. Crosby is as deft a passer as there is in the world, the powerful Ovechkin scores goals as relentlessly as the tide, leading the league in goals two years running. Crosby is quiet and unassuming, Ovechkin brash and demonstrative. Crosby, a twenty-one-year-old Nova Scotian, has experienced team-level success that has to date alluded his twenty-three-year-old Russian counterpart, having led, along with fellow superstar teammate Evgeni (pronounced "Ev-GHE-nee") Malkin, the Penguins to the Stanley Cup Finals a year ago, while Ovechkin has yet to carry the Capitals, similarly laden with talent, past the first round.

The NFL Draft. Will the Lions take yet another wide receiver with a premium draft pick? They have the chance with Texas Tech stud Michael Crabtree sitting there. Do they take Jawja's imposing but scatter-armed Matt Stafford? Does Baylor offensive tackle Jason Smith go in the top five and in doing so remind NFL fans that Baylor does in fact still have a football program? Where does Alabama's Andre Smith go after being kicked off the team prior to the Sugar Bowl for unnamed rules violations and then disappointing everyone with a who-cares approach to the Combine? Where does Missouri's mighty midget Jeremy Maclin fall? His dazzling speed and breathtaking open-field skills are in a package that would fit under a Christmas tree. Will a team use a premium pick to draft a guy who might be only a third-down back and kick returner? And once in the lineup, will he be the game-breaker Reggie Bush has failed to be?

Mathematical Elimination Fever! The Pittsburgh Pirates, who proudly wear the crown of Team Chrisopher Will Follow (in this they follow the 2003 Red Sox and 2006 Rays), are gunning to avoid their 17th successive losing season, a mark that would break the all-time record held by the 1933-1948 Philadelphia Phillies. The Pirates, who began play in 1882, are about 700 games up on the Phils in the All-Time Battle for Pennsylvania, so they shouldn't be too concerned about finishing four to ten games under .500, as is their destiny with this group. Good chance they get off the losing-season shnide in 2010.

Keeping with that theme: The Atlanta Braves, who opened for business back in Boston as a charter member of the National League in 1876, start the season with an all-time record of 9,772 wins and 9,808 losses, a mark 36 games under .500. A 99-63 record this year puts their 133-year mark exactly at break-even. Even for a good Braves club, 99 wins are a bit of a stretch this year, especially given the competition in the NL East, but it's fun to think about.

The Ascension of LeBron. The world's greatest basketball player continues his ascent into Global Icon status as Cleveland takes its best-in-the-NBA record into the playoffs. This is the first year that I can see that the Cavaliers have entered postseason as the league's #1 team, and the 6-foot-8, 255-pound James is clearly its best player. The NBA title has a long history of going to the team with the best individual player, and James by himself makes the Cavs the team to beat and end Cleveland's 44-year world's-championship drought; no Cleveland team in any sport has won its league's ultimate title since the 1964 Browns won the NFL championship. That dry spell ends here and now. The Cavaliers will win the NBA Finals.

So let it be done.

Spring is in the Air, and a Soon-to-be Middle-Aged Man's Fancy Turns to Thoughts of Sport.

It's April. Spring is officially in all its glory, America's most majestic sport, major-league baseball, is in full swing, the spring somnolence that is the overly hyped manufactured drama of the NCAA basketball tournament is behind us, the National Hockey League drops the puck on its 2009 playoffs on Tuesday, and the NBA starts its postseason this weekend. And don't get me started on how beautiful Augusta National looks in hi-def. This is the first time I have had the pleasure of watching the Masters on the big-penis Samsung I bought in August and Augusta's azaleas, against the backdrop of all that green, is hypnotic in its beauty.

Storylines I'll be following for the next few weeks:

The Hornets' playoff run. After dispatching the Dallas Mavericks 102-92 today to go one game up on the Mavs with two to play for the sixth position in the Western Conference, the Hornets look like they'll be playing either Houston or Portland in the quarterfinals when the playoffs start next weekend. I don't really know who's the better matchup. They are about equal as teams, each with a good big man. The Rockets have more experience, Portland has more depth. "Age and experience trump young talent" is one of those adages that float through every sport with very little to back it up; if anything, in most sports the evidence runs counter. But the NBA is the one league where experience seems to matter most, so the Hornets might be better off taking the puppy-young Trail Blazers. Whhoooooo!

Hockey's rivalries continue. One of the most heated rivalries in any sport pours gas on the fire when the Montreal Canadiens and the Boston Bruins meet in the NHL's first round. The Bruins, in their best season in thirty-five years, were the best team in the East during the regular season, earning 113 of 164 standings points (the NHL awards two points for a win, one for a game lost in overtime), compared to Montreal's 93. The Canadiens are celebrating their centennial season but finished the regular year a disappointing eighth in the East after being a pre-season favorite to challenge for the Stanley Cup. Games between these two are among the most physical in hockey and I plan on not missing a minute.

More tomorrow ...

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Somewhere, Naomi Klein and Thomas Frank Die a Little Inside

Will Wilkinson has a column in which he basically states that societies that rely heavily on government are screwed. The argument, which intuitively sounds pitch-perfect, is that in a society where people trust each other and are willing to set aside (if only briefly) their own immediate-term wants to focus (if only briefly) on the common good, government, for those reasons, is likely to function efficiently. Of course, in such a society government is likely to be less needed, since people are solving common-good problems on their own (Wilkinson: "Voluntary civil society associations will thrive"). By contrast, in a place where people do not trust each other and societal needs are abandoned while each chases his or her own at the expense of others, strong government agencies and programs are needed to keep things from devolving into chaos. But those are exactly the type of societies in which government is most likely to be inefficient at best, corrupt and focused on advancing its own interests at worst.

The way around this is not focusing on better government programs, but on increasing the level of trust people have to the other people and institutions within the society. This both improves the quality of and lessens the need for activist government. The Burning Man culture is a good example of this in action.

I'm not really aware of empirical evidence backing this claim (though BM does make a good datum for the argument), but, again, it's one that I find intuitively senseful.

Climate Engineering

To the degree that climate change is harmful, this is the kind of thing that will allow us to escape or mitigate the damage, not useless attempts at conservation that are often thinly-disguised attacks on modern consumerist culture.

The Funniest Thing I'll Read Today

South Park creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker get a signed photo of Saddam Hussein from the Marines. Turns out that the USMC made Hussein watch the SP movie during his captivity. The dictator was depicted in the movie as being Satan's boyfriend.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Bringing the Badness

Oh, sweet baby jane are the Houston Astros going to be bad.

I know that they won yesterday, beating Chicago 3-2 in a ten-inning affair. I know that they have two of the game's brighter stars in Lance Berkman and Roy Oswalt. I know that they have a successful recent history, with only two losing seasons in the past seventeen years. I know that an NL championship trophy from 2005 shines in their trophy case.

But oh, are they going to be bad.

Forget that they are trotting out as their third baseman 35-year-old Geoff Blum, whose .700 career OPS is about fifty points below the norm for his position. Forget that the starting pitching rotation was patched together with Elmer's glue. Focus on one thing: Houston has played two games in 2009, and in each manager Cecil Cooper has chosen to bat Pudge Rodriguez second.

Rodriguez is finishing off a remarkable career. He once possessed a breathtakingly broad skill set, highlighted by his legendary throwing arm a catlike quickness behind the plate. Even at his best, however, Pudge was a poor choice for the second spot in the batting order. His awful ratio of double plays to walks drawn was always better suited for the fifth or sixth hole, and that ratio has only grown uglier with time. That Cooper cannot see this is by itself evidence that he is incapable of effectively running a major-league team. Couple that level of boss's-chair incompetence with a roster that swamps its only two bright lights with flotsam, and even a .500 record is a pipe dream.

Astros fans, you are headed towards a bright light. That light is an onrushing train.

Sunday, April 5, 2009


Neil Paine, whose name would be a thousand times cooler if he would drop the training "e", has at the invaluable Basketball Reference site a good post on the NBA's dyansty teams. Good stuff, but one thing, Neil: This lives in Laker lore as the "Baby Sky Hook", not the "Junior Sky Hook."

Carry on.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The Hacker Culture

Every so often I stumble across something, even something originally written several years ago, that makes me re-question where I belong on a variety of intellectual/philosophical/political spectra.

It's quite long, but still worth reading.

Cars, Fars, Bars, and Tars!

Obama, yesterday: "We cannot, we must not, and we will not let our auto industry simply vanish."

Why not?

Seriously, why not? If other organizations can make cars better or more efficiently or with higher quality than we are willing to, why don't we just let them do it and focus our energies elsewhere? Repeat after me: America does not need a domestic auto industry. America does not need a domestic auto industry. America does not need a domestic auto --

The colors! Oh man, the colors!

Monday, March 30, 2009


Is there a better first-date conversation?

No, thinks I.

Below is a comment I posted to the above-linked Daily Mail article; it's my standard boilerplate, but it is, I think, quite effective in rebutting many of the objections listed by some of the less-informed people populating the thread:

Objections to cryonics normally follow one of four paths: 1) Revival is technologically unfeasible; 2) It is immoral; 3) One life should be plenty enough and only a fool would want a "second" one; 4) It's all a scam.

Rebuttals: 1) Undeniably true now and for the immediate future, but progressively less so the further into the future one imagines. Everything said about cryonics' unfeasibility were also said for tens of thousands of years about flight; 2) If morality demands we all expire at our appointed times, why bother with even CPR or other proven life-extension methods? 3) True enough for some, much less so for those who constantly marvel at and revel in the wonder of life, and cannot imagine having too much of it; 4) Some organizations are less scrupulous than others, but most of the biggies, like CI and Alcor, have sterling track records and reputations.

I have been interested in and debating cryonics for over a decade since first picking up James L. Halperin's The First Immortal in an airport bookstore, and I have yet to hear convincing counter-rebuttals.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Freedom and the Future for a Friday

... And you can have it in any color you like, so long as it isn't black.

Actually, it isn't *quite* as bad as it sounds. California's Air Resources Board -- because air must be parceled out according to bureaucratic diktat -- is not outlawing black cars but is rather mandating "solar reflectivity" levels that represent a tough row to hoe for less-reflective black. So, in an attempt to appease CARB, the paint people have been tinkering with the chemistry to find blacks that reflect more light and to date have produced nothing more striking than "mud-puddle brown".

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

RIP, John Brittain, 1965-2009

We lost yesterday one of the funniest men to ever write about baseball, John Brittain. As of now, there are close to 600 comments on the Baseball Primer thread regarding his passing, probably ninety-five per cent of which are from people who never met him, yet feel a sense of loss and will for a while. If nothing else, that speaks to the power of the Internet's ability to bring together people (which has been remarked upon many multiples of millions of times) and to the wit and wisdom of John's writing (which cannot be remarked upon enough).

His last article was published on The Hardball Times site only last week. Fittingly, it covered John's favorite team, the Toronto Blue Jays.

The writing world is a little less full today.

RIP, John, you socially-unacceptable thing, you.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Future for a Friday (4 days early or 3 days late)

Interesting. If nothing else, it would be an incredible safety boon to people living alone.

Less interesting, to the point of being tiresomely stupid, is the idea that such a technology is "silly", because people shouldn't be trying to reduce or eliminate risk from their lives and should instead focus on living it. My response to this idiocy is to point out that, firstly and most importantly, monitor != protect. Nothing inherent about such tools prevents people from living their lives to the fullest; if anything, the opposite might be true (this is beside the point, but to argue otherwise is to argue that more information is predominantly harmful, a stance I reject outright). Secondly, who the hell are these people to tell other people what "living" is? For some people, reducing risk and staying safe is a perfectly wonderful way to live their lives.

Meet the New Boss ...

... same as the old boss.

Yes, you have indeed been fooled again.

Related: FSF amicus brief; Obama, Biden, and the RIAA

Friday, March 20, 2009

Because When I Speak, Vegas Listens

Last week I noted that betting even money on the Yankees to win fewer than 95 games was a license to steal money. The bookmakers have agreed: now has New York's over/under down from 95.5 wins to 94.5 and the price has gone from even to -115 ($115 wager pays $100).

I graciously accept the title of most influential person in Las Vegas, and will wield my power wisely.

Yanks under 94.5 at -115 is still a decent bet, if not the print-money deal it was a week ago. There's some real risk in that lineup; Derek Jeter will be 35 in June, can no longer play anything more than a passible shortstop (if that), has lost his power (after belting 150-200 points of isolated slugging at his peak, he was at 108 last year), and is little more than an average player. They're paying A.J. Burnett for five seasons' worth of Cy Young-caliber pitching when he's really had only three good years in his whole career. They need C.C. Sabathia to not develop his own gravitational pull. Throw in the age in the outfield, their not having a decent backup behind Jorge Posada ... there's a lot of risk here. Plus the competition from the Red Sox and defending champion Rays will be just brutal, Toronto still has one of the better run-prevention teams in baseball, and Baltimore will be ushering in the Era of Matt Wieters, who will one day rule all he surveys. I see New York as more of a high-80s team with 92- 93-win upside, maybe a 30-35% chance of getting to 95 ... at -115 you need about a 53% probability to break even, so under-94.5 is still playable.

If gambling were legal, of course.

EDIT: 3/23/2009 - I mentioned at the top that "Yankees to win fewer than 95 games" was the original bet. The original bet was actually Yankees to win fewer than 96 games, since the over/under was 95.5 -- LCL

Monday, March 16, 2009

Humans >> Chimpanzees

This Megan McArdle post is more about the hazards of predicting the future and the extent to which our liberties-protecting and -enhancing economy relies on those predictions, but what caught my eye was this part:

In some sense, all of history's progress from lives that were nasty, brutish and short to today's splendiferous buffet of iPhones, nine-month courses of physical therapy, and year-round fresh broccoli can be summed up in three words: gains from trade. We live better than a tribe of chimpanzees roaming through the primordial forest because we specialize and then exchange the fruits of our skills with each other. Trade, as the ecoomists say, increases the size of the economic pie to be divided between us.

I will leave it to the reader to decide whether year-round fresh broccoli really qualifies as a societal advance, but that's neither here nor there. What matters is the importance of trade and, more specifically, *trade based on specialized skills*. You do what you're good at and don't waste time doing what you're not good at. I do what I'm good at and let others do what I'm not good at. Then we all trade what we have produced with those skills. It's really quite communitarian when you think about it (the communitarian-boosting effects of capitalism clearly exceed those of explicitly-communitarian "isms" like socialism and communism, though, again, that's neither here nor there). Keep that in mind the next time someone espouses the spiritual goodness of self-reliance, etc., and other such claptrap.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Aaaaannnd ... It's Official

Florida is left out of the NCAA basketball tournament for the second year running. Actually, a more accurate statement would be that Florida PLAYED ITSELF OUT of the NCAA basketball tournament for the second year running. Ken Pomeroy's ratings have them as the 44th-best team in Division I when there are only 34 at-large spots. Defensively, Pomeroy has the UF rated 88th, giving up 63.2 points per 65 possessions when adjusting for quality of opponents (the top teams are normally well under 60), and they lost 10 of their 32 games despite playing a shamefully-putrid schedule: 292nd out of 344 by Pomeroy's numbers. Part of this was the decline of the Southeast Conference as a whole. Strength-of-schedule rankings are not unlike house prices; what your neighbors are doing matters, and Florida's in-conference neighbors were so weak that the league finished dead last among the six major conferences. And even surrounded by po' folks, the Gators couldn't crack the SEC's top five, finishing tied for fifth at 9-7 with a Mississippi State team that a) beat them head-to-head and b) won the SEC tournament when UF was bounced in the second round. So call them sixth in the weakest SEC in years.

So .. 44th overall, 88th in defense, 292nd in schedule, and sixth in the number-six major conference. Is this deserving of a bid to the national championship tournament? Lessee ... Pomeroy's #44 teams the past three years:

2008 -- Missouri. They missed the tournament (but were much better than Florida '09 at the defensive end, ranking 70th) and played a vastly tougher schedule: The Big 12 was the nation's toughest that year, and Mizzou's 180th-ranked non-conference schedule was *112 spots better than UF's this year*.

2007 -- Boston College. The Eagles were invited as a 7th seed, but played the #117 non-conference schedule and were fourth in the ACC, the nation's toughest league. BC fell in the second round to Georgetown

2006 -- Air Force. A 13th-seed invite that was 24-6 and lost its first-round NCAA game to Illinois.

The number-six teams in the number-six major conferences the last three years:

2008 -- Wait, that was Florida again, finishing sixth in the number-six SEC (two years straight the SEC has been the weakest of the power six). They missed the tournament.

2007 -- Missouri from the Big 12. They missed the tournament.

2006 -- Nebraska from the Big 12. They missed the tournament. Let's just run this back a bit farther.

2005 -- Arizona State from the Pac 10. They missed the tournament.

2004 -- Southern California from the Pac 10 (which was actually the number-eight league that year, ranking below the Mountain West and Conference USA). Guess what. They missed the tournament.

2003 -- Southern California from the Pac 10. And the beat goes on.

2002 -- Syracuse from the Big East. One of the very few seasons that Jim Boeheim's Orangemen were denied a chance to dance.

2001 -- Ah, never mind.

The lesson here is pretty simple: When you're conference is the weakest of the six majors, you had better crack that league's top five to have even a prayer of being in the conversations when ESPN's herd of talking baboons surrounds Jay Bilas and pontificates on the selection committee's choices and snubs. Two straight years now, the Gators have been unable to do that.

Friday, March 13, 2009


Auburn 61 Florida 58

Quentez Robinson blocked Walter Hodge's three-point shot as the buzzer sounded to seal Auburn's win over Florida in the second round of the SEC basketball tournament. The loss cements UF's disappointing finish; after winning their first five conference games, the Gators dropped eight of their remaining thirteen in a six-week spasm of rotten play that was reminiscent of their 3-7 falloff to close last season.

This is Florida's second consecutive miss-out on the Big Dance that is the NCAA tournament after having their ticket punched nine years running from 1999 through 2007, closing that run with national championships in '06 and '07.

Does coach Billy Donovan find his seat a bit warmer? Probably not, or at least he should not. I am a big believer in Bill "the Sports Guy" Simmons's rule regarding five-year grace periods (see rule #12), and after back-to-back banners, Donovan could coast for another four or five years and still be deserving of having his name grace the O'Connell Center's hardwood floor. But there's no getting around the fact that too many of the Gators' losses over these two often heart-wrenching seasons are attributable to factors most people associate with poor coaching: Missing late-game free throws and not having someone get back for transition defense, which cost UF a shoulda-been-a-win game against South Carolina ... turnovers ... blown defensive assignments ... and, finally, putting the season-deciding shot in the hands of Hodge, a bit player for most of his first three years and not a light-it-up scorer as a senior (although, in fairness, he did hit a three on the prior possession to keep Florida within striking distance) when Nick Calathes, Dan Werner, and Erving Walker are all equally good or better from three-ball land. Florida was second to league-champion LSU in per-possession point margin, outscoring its opponents by 4.55 points per 65 possessions and was first in offense at 71.5 points per 65 possessions, yet will miss the tournament. Some of this hangs on the middle-aged man with the suit and clipboard -- and the $2.5 million salary.

The SEC tourney continues tomorrow with LSU playing Mississippi State and Tennessee squaring off with Auburn, with the winners playing in Sunday's final, but who the hell cares?

Florida is going to the NIT. Again. Oh, the ignomy.

Freedom for a Friday

Preach on, Brother Bill! I could not agree more with this, and think that it will eventually be ... well, "downfall" is too strong a word, but the closed nature of the iPhone is going to bleed Apple's market share, with Google's Gx phones, based on the company's open-source Android operating system, being the primary beneficiaries.

Think about it this way ... Apple's iPhone is more closed than any OS Microsoft has ever released. When was the last time an MS operating system would run only programs either developed by or expressly approved by Microsoft? Yet that is exactly what Apple has chosen to do. And the company will suffer for it, and rightfully so.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

What I'm Watching Tonight

Main Event

SEC Basketball Tournament: Florida/Arkansas, 8:45

The Gators need to win three straight conference-tournament games to avoid missing the NCAA tournament for the second straight year. Given that a team cannot win three without first winning one, beating Arkansas is critical.



TNT's Thursday-night pro-hoop doubleheader consistently offers one of the most entertaining five-hour blocks on TV. Tonight it's Lakers at Spurs (important for the Hornets, who trail San Antonio by three games in the Southwest division) followed by Cavaliers at Suns. Anyone who misses a chance to see LeBron James should have their televisions taken away. James is having a season that wouldn't look out of place in Michael Jordan's career. And he's only 24.

Keeping an eye on ...

NHL - Pittsburgh Penguins at Columbus Blue Jackets

Pittsburgh is a game ahead of Columbus for sixth in the East, a spot it needs to maintain to avoid having to face juggernaut Boston in the first two rounds of the playoffs, plus the Pens have two of hockey's most exciting players in Sidney Crosby and Evgeny Melkin.

NHL - Calgary Flames at Detroit Red Wings

A likely preview of the Western Conference semifinals.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Make! Money!! Now!!!

The Dow has lost most of its gains from the past ten years. Jim Cramer is waving his arms on CNBC's Mad Money, saying that while there's always a bull market somewhere, he can't find it here. Many workers' 401(k) accounts have been wiped clean. And in the cruelest of fates, some people "were good friends" with Bernie Madoff. In such uncertain times, how does one grow wealth?

The award-winning* staff at Diamonds & Emeralds is here to provide you with the answer. The surest way to make money in 2009 would be to bet on the New York Yankees' winning fewer than 96 games this year. Or it would be if gambling were not illegal.


Here are the MLB over/unders for regular season wins, as posted by The minus-sign number in parenthesis represents the amount needed to risk to win $100 (the rare plus-sign number denotes how much the better stands to win with a $100 bet)

Toronto Blue Jays
Over 79.5 (-105)
Under 79.5 (-125)

Texas Rangers
Over 73.5 (-130)
Under 73.5 (even)

Arizona Diamondbacks
Over 86.5 (-115)
Under 86.5 (-115)

Atlanta Braves
Over 84.5 (-115)
Under 84.5 (-115)

Baltimore Orioles
Over 72.5 (-105)
Under 72.5 (-125)

Boston Red Sox
Over 93.5 (-130)
Under 93.5 (even)

Chicago Cubs
Over 91.5 (-115)
Under 91.5 (-115)

Chicago White Sox
Over 78.5 (-115)
Under 78.5 (-115)

Cincinnati Reds
Over 80.5 (-115)
Under 80.5 (-115)

Cleveland Indians
Over 85.5 (-115)
Under 85.5 (-115)

Colorado Rockies
Over 77.5 (-115)
Under 77.5 (-115)

Detroit Tigers
Over 81.5 (-115)
Under 81.5 (-115)

Florida Marlins
Over 76.5 (-115)
Under 76.5 (-115)

Houston Astros
Over 73.5 (+105)
Under 73.5 (-135)

Kansas City Royals
Over 75.5 (-105)
Under 75.5 (-125)

Los Angeles Angels
Over 87.5 (-130)
Under 87.5 (even)

Los Angeles Dodgers
Over 82.5 (-150)
Under 82.5 (+120)

Milwaukee Brewers
Over 80.5 (-115)
Under 80.5 (-115)

Minnesota Twins
Over 83.5 (-115)
Under 83.5 (-115)

New York Mets
Over 89.5 (-115)
Under 89.5 (-115)

New York Yankees
Over 95.5 (-130)
Under 95.5 (even)

Oakland Athletics
Over 82.5 (-105)
Under 82.5 (-125)

Philadelphia Phillies
Over 88.5 (-115)
Under 88.5 (-115)

Pittsburgh Pirates
Over 69.5 (-115)
Under 69.5 (-115)

San Diego Padres
Over 71.5 (-115)
Under 71.5 (-115)

San Francisco Giants
Over 80.5 (-115)
Under 80.5 (-115)

Seattle Mariners
Over 72.5 (-115)
Under 72.5 (-115)

St Louis Cardinals
Over 82.5 (-115)
Under 82.5 (-115)

Tampa Bay Rays
Over 88.5 (-130)
Under 88.5 (even)

Washington Nationals
Over 73.5 (+105)
Under 73.5 (-135)

How on earth is Yankees over 95.5 (essentially betting that the Yankees will go 96-66 or better, a mark that would basically make them the the best team in baseball) such a heavily-favored bet? Minus-130? The idea that the Yanks will win 96 or more games is so popular with SportsBook's customers that the book forces you to accept only 79 cents on the dollar (a $130 bet pays $100) if you want a piece of it. At that price, Yankee-over betters need a 57% probability to have even a break-even chance of winning money, and, to my mind, a 70+% chance to make it a good value wager. Do the 2009 Yankees have a 70% shot at winning 96 games? Out of the 120 team-seasons over the last four years, only nine teams (7.5%, an average of 2.3 teams per year out of 30) have won 96+. So risking 130 to win 100 on Yankees over 95.5 means requires thinking that the Yankees have a 70% shot at being one of the top two teams in baseball. That's an awfully high standard. Much easier money stands to be made on the under (95 wins or fewer). They can be "only" one of the top five or six teams in the game and still not win 95, especially in a division as steel-cage-deathmatch tough as the AL East -- and that bet pays even money.

Detroit under 81.5 looks good, too. That's a club with some tasty implosion potential.

Pity we do not yet live in a free society. Maybe in 2362 (sigh).

* Six-time winner of coveted "Darkest Office in the Building" award

Monday, March 9, 2009

The Universe Does Not Exist to Comfort Homeowners

My dad pointed this out from the Yahoos. Seeing more pieces like this floating around. Hough's article is better than most, and his #5 ("Neighborhoods are changing in unpredictable ways") is a very under-appreciated reason for praising renting over buying. Depending on the source, the typical homeowner might have anywhere from 30-80% of their net worth tied up in their home. This is madness. Talk about lack of investment diversification ... sixty, maybe eighty cents for each dollar of a person's life, tied up for decades in one home in one neighborhood. For a generation, and probably longer, personal-finance gurus have railed against individual people buying and selling individual stocks or behind too heavily weighted in any one investment, etc. And this whole time public policy and culture have encouraged people, most of whom have the financial sophistication of Pez dispensers, to not only make a massive thirty-year investment in one asset, but to borrow money to do it.


Saturday, March 7, 2009

Joy of Life #39 -- Schadenfreude


This makes me pine for the good ol' days where NCAA sanctions meant a program's being banished from TV, conference champioinships, and bowl games. America's college football fans could use less garnett 'n' gold-clad Bobby Bowden in their lives.

If seven of the Seminoles' 2007 wins are "vacated", what might that do to St. Bobby's chase of Joe Paterno for the all-time Division 1-A wins record? Nothing. For one thing, the Florida State program will be vacating wins, not Bowden personally. For another, a chunk of Bowden's wins were at what is now Samford University, a 1-AA school. If only wins at 1-A universities count, then Bowden is too far beyond Paterno for it to be even considered a race. If wins at 1-AA as well as 1-A schools count, then Grambling legend Eddie Robinson still sits at the top of the mountain.

Friday, March 6, 2009


This is monumentally depressing.

Slashdot commenter "Joe Snipe" has what I think is the most likely explanation:

[Colorado] made attempts to be "ahead" of the curve when it came to an online presence (see also and the atrocity that is netfile; we were one of the first states to have online tax filing). Unfortunately they hired people who knew ass all about javascript (or proper DB handling) and no one knew enough to stop it in it's infancy. Now it has snowballed into something too costly to replace and too borked to simply repair. I imagine someone told some user that ff was a security risk, rather than go into the technical details of why the site falls to crap on browser it was never tested for. Eventually, through what I like to call "the wiki effect" that same information got passed back as fact to the current web coders who promptly put up a notice to inform their end users.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Lions >> Fish

Saw Big Fish and Secondhand Lions with Michele Saturday night. Lions, I thought, was better than Fish, if only because anything having to do with lions will always be better than anything having to do with fish.

Heard good things about Saturday's Spanish Town parade. It certainly seemed to take its toll on the Saturday-night party crowd. I might go see it next year. Don't tell Michele.

Monday, February 23, 2009


The Cato Institute's Brink Lindsay has a new paper (PDF) out in which he savages a Nobel-winning economist like only His Brinkness can. Fun for the whole family. Speaking of family, the family in the cover picture ... shouldn't there be Negroes or Communists menacing the young daughters' virtue? Or something?

By the way, another one for the liberal types who equate social justice mainly with income egalitarianism: Do you prefer another "Operation Wetback"? It would lower the competition among low-skill workers for low-skill jobs, thus boosting wages for those jobs (some equality-focused commenters, most notably Mickey Kaus, make this argument explicitly in supporting strict anti-immigration reform). If so, why are citizens of the USA more entitled to the rights to sell one's labor than non-citizens?

Friday, February 20, 2009

Cringely Breaks Up Microsoft

Bob Cringely, one of the tech world's more grizzled commenters, exposes his plan to cut 'n' gut Microsoft into a leaner, more focused, and, presumably, more efficient tech provider. I agree with most of what he says, especially regarding positioning the Xbox as a non-family, high-octane, high-kickass, all-testosterone gaming system-to-the-xtreeem (it even has an "X" at the front of its name!).

But what I found most interesting was his take on MS's opening its own stores, which I dutifully hammered a week ago. Cringely sees it less as an attempt at real retailing than as a marketing ploy designed to bypass press coverage of the Windows 7 rollout by getting the new OS and various other MS tools and toys out into the public where people can kick the tires on them themselves (all in an environment tweaked just so) without their opinions' being influenced by Walter Mossberg and other doomsayers. That's the plan anyway, at least as conjured up by Cringely.

I'm still, to say the least, underwhelmed. If this is mostly a marketing effort of Redmond's part, why is it spearheaded by former Wal-Mart exec Kevin Turner, a hard-core retailer's retailer? If MS was hoping to get real Wal-Mart expertise in hiring Turner, than it could not have been thinking in terms of propaganda over retailing success, since Wal-Mart, Turner's only professional home to date, is a thousand times better at actually selling stuff -- and the logistics of moving around stuff to be sold -- than winning hearts and minds.

Log Rollin'

Da gubmit wants you to keep your home wi-fi logs so police can go through them if they think they need to. This is why > /dev/null is your friend. And there is, as always, an economic consideration: As one Slashdot commentor posts, "Who is going to pay for the storage costs, backups, etc.? I'm not going to foot the bill for it or get fined because my cheap Linksys router dies after six months of use and I lose my logs."

My default thinking has always been to purge, purge, purge because you don't need to secure data that do not exist. The idea that home users' logs might be trolled only reinforces that view. How long before altering a device's log settings -- not trashing or altering logs, just changing how often something is logged, or where those logs are stored, etc. -- is itself a crime?

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Apocalyptic Doom Rescheduled for Later

The effects of global warming have been postponed. The National Snow and Ice Data Center regretfully informs the public that its prediction of a "quite possible" ice-free North Pole for the 2008 melt season was wrong because of unreliable sensors. The NSIDC apologizes for any inconvenience.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Hornets 100, Thunder 98

Kevin Durant scores 47. For the year he is scoring 25.9 points per game (fourth in the league) on .481 shooting with an Offensive Rating (points per 100 possessions) of 111. This is at the age of 20. By comparison, Kobe Bryant scored 19.9 on .465 (106) in his age-20 season (1999) and LeBron James scored 27.2 on .472 (114) at 20. Durant will never be the passer James is and his rebounding is a bit disappointing, but we are witnessing the birth of a marvelous and graceful scoring machine. Watching Kevin Durant play basketball is a gift.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Sunday Morning News

This is good news.

The allure of protectionist/nationalist trade policies in difficult time is quite understandable and difficult to resist. But understandable or not, they still reduce people's standard of living by reducing their economic options and in many cases forcing them to buy goods and services from low-efficiency and/or low-quality producers. This, added with 1) the moral problems inherent with telling people who they can and cannot do business with, 2) the enforcement costs required to ensure that all the populace's buying and selling is happening with only state-approved entities, and 3) the creations of black markets that are an inevitable response to (2) and (3), all conspire to make them a bad idea.

The G7's pledge this weekend is a step in the right direction ... or, at least, a pledge to not step too far in the wrong one.

One Strike Away and One Swing of the Bat. The Tale of Donnie Moore

Every baseball fan remembers the 1986 World Series, when the New York Mets' Mookie Wilson rolled a ground ball through the legs of Boston first baseman Bill Buckner, giving the Mets, who were baseball's best team during the season but were down to their last gasp in the Series, extra life and denying the Red Sox their first world's championship since 1918. Most fans also remember New York's playoff win that year against the Houston Astros, when their sixteen-inning win in Game Six of that series pushed the Mets into the World Series without their having to face Houston pitcher Mike Scott, to whom they had already lost twice in that set, in a loser-goes-home Game Seven.

What most fans do not remember, though, is the other playoff series that year, Boston's win over the California Angles in the American League Championship Series.

The Angels opened the 1986 season having won just two division titles in their 25 seasons of existence and had never been to the World Series. After having finished in second place in the AL's Western Division the prior two years, the Halos were sluggish at the start of '86, and woke up the morning of June 16 just a .500 ball club through the season's first sixty-two games. But they started a five-game winning streak that day, propelling them to a 61-39 finish and they won the West by five games over Texas. On October 7 they opened the best-of-seven AL Championship Series against the East champ, the Boston Red Sox. The two teams split the first two games in Boston's Fenway Park, then headed to Anaheim Stadium for the next three. The first two of those three were tight ones: California got a couple of seventh-inning home runs to turn a 1-1 game into a 5-3 win in Game Three, then the next day scored three runs in the bottom of the ninth to force extra innings before winning in the eleventh. The win put them up three games to one in the series, a lead only a small handful of teams in the game's history had ever blown.

Then came Game Five, about which, more later.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Pitchers and Catchers Report to Spring Training

As beautiful and descriptive a seven-word phrase as there is in the English language. I'm sitting here watching ESPN Classic's showing of the Bucky Fucking Dent game.

51 days left in the Dark Time. Opening Day is April 6.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Great Moments in Bad Ideas

Microsoft is opening its own retail stores. PCWorld identifies the top ten ways that the MS stores will differ from Apple's. #2 is probably my favorite.

My first thought was to put this under "Great Moments in Bad Ideas" and poke fun, but a nagging voice in my head said to not be too hasty; this could work and really surprise some people. Then I thought it through further and, no, it won't work. Under "Great Moments in Bad Ideas" it will remain.

News From the Freezer

The Cryonics Institute has added 17 new members in the 2009's first 42 days.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Magic Buttons

The "polls" have closed on this, but I really like the "Magic Button" style of questions. I haven't seen those before, although I'm sure they've been around. And I'd be curious to hear the logic of people who chose differently on questions three and four.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Robert Higgs is Smarter and Crazier than I Am. I Like People Like Robert Higgs.

I thought this was really interesting. I hope to write more about that this week. Ditto the Will Wilkinson post that brought Higgs's to my attention.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Mental Radio

The mental radio has locked in firmly on KC & the Sunshine Band's "Play that Funky Music". Ordinarily I would complain, and loudly, but this is actually a respite from the mental radio's previous selection, the Guess Who's "American Woman", except with "weeble" replacing "woman". I'm rooting for some AC/DC or at least Pantera or Machine Head to kick in at some point, but experience has taught me that I don't fully control this thing.

Friday, February 6, 2009

More on the Kissing of 18-Year-Olds' Asses

Rivals has LSU being passed up by the Nick Saban Athlete-Collection Machine at Alabama. Florida is tenth, but only because Urban Meyer prefers quality to quantity; 12 of the Gators' 16 commits do their partying in the four- or five-star suites, and UF's 3.94 average is #1.

Future & Freedom for a Friday

Freedom: The feeling of loss that Ms. Sepich endures to this day is beyond words. What happened to her daughter is beyond imagination. But taking DNA samples of the merely accused instead of convicted? I have very mixed thoughts on this, probably mixed enough to have the Libertarian Party take away my membership card, but I'm still working through various pros and cons.

Future: It was forty-five years ago that Dr. Robert Ettinger published The Prospect of Immortality, the book that kicked off cryonics. Thank you for your foresight, Dr. Ettinger, and best wishes for your continued good health and contributions. We still need you, 'cause we ain't there yet

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Monday, February 2, 2009

Bullet, Ye Be Dodged

And the Western World is spared the ignominy of a seven-loss team's being hailed as pro football's world's champion. Whew! Now Civilization can move its attention to more pressing matters, such as weather the Kansas City Royals have a shot at centending in the AL Central (yes), whether LeBron James really could average a triple-double (no), and whether the global economy will be faced with the boa-constrictor that is protectionism (almost certainly, if mostly in the form of those imbecilic buy-local/buy-American campaigns).

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Where We Do Not Predict, We Foretell

To put it bluntly, the Arizona Cardinals are lucky to be here. First, they were lucky to play in a junk division; their three division mates, St. Louis, San Francisco, and Seattle, were a combined 13-35. Including their postseason run, the Cardinals are 6-7 against non-NFC West teams, and have been outscored by 43 points. They were lucky to be the beneficiary of Jake Delhomme's historic meltdown in the semifinals, and they were lucky that Philadelphia upset the Giants in that round, giving them home-field advantage for the championship game.

It stops here. Lots of things have come together to put the Cards in the Super Bowl, and now Pittsburgh will tear them apart. Ben Roethisberger goes 19-31 for 285 yards and two scores, Kurt Warner is intercepted twice and sacked three more, and Larry Fitzgerald has big numbers, but most of his 130+ yards come in catch-up time. The Steelers become the first franchise to win six Super Bowls, winning 28-10.

Two Short Hits

1) Today is Jackie Robinson's 90th birthday. Anyone who thinks his Hall of Fame status hangs on only his breaking major-league baseball's color line needs to look at his career again. Robinson was a truly breathtaking ball player. Branch Rickey, the man for whom bringing Robinson to the big leagues was only one bullet point on a magnificent resume, would never have made such a move were it not true.

2) lowered the Super Bowl line to Steelers -6.5. 88%(!) is on Arizona to win straight up, lowering the price on that bet from +200 ($100 bet wins $200) to +190. I find this 'Zona love stunning. Are people falling for the "recency effect", and focusing on only the Cardinals' last three playoff games while ignoring the mostly-lackluster sixteen games that game before them. I'm ready to acknowledge that the Cardinals aren't as bad as their horrid late-season slide -- doesn't anyone remember this team losing consecutive games to Minnesota and the Patriots by a combined 82-21 count, with those two drubbings coming all of two weeks after a 48-20 Thanksgiving Night humiliation in Philadelphia -- but even when they were playing at their best they still found time to cough up a 56-35 hairball at the hands of a Jets team that missed the playoffs.

The Cardinals are the worst team to reach the Super Bowl since at least the '79 Rams (who were promptly dispatched in Super Bowl 14 by, coincidentally, Pittsburgh), and probably ever. I say lay the six and a half, sit back, and watch the Steelers roll.