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.