Archive for August, 2008

Twitter Updates for 2008-08-30

  • Hoping rain clears up for Fall River Farmer's Market. #
  • @CinemaSuicide you and @ericwyman should get together to watch. He'll bring the sippy cups. #
  • Every time the Sox call up a young pitching prospect, I think of "The Next Greg Maddux," Jeff Suppan and how that went. #

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Twitter Updates for 2008-08-29

  • @mwyman Shows what you know. Started yesterday. Magic sign outside school said so. #
  • Couldn't decide which would be more painful: Pats pre-season game or Jeopardy college tournament. #
  • What a strange way to browse flickr: #
  • Thursday - Saturday NYT crosswords exist solely to deflate my ego. #
  • @dl004d I heard if you Twitter about killing presidential candidates they take away your LiveJournal account. Careful. #
  • Has Al Gore tried to do his bit for the environment by holding in gas for the past 8 years? OH THE HUGE MANATEE #
  • @chicobangs you foreigners are always standing up for each other. Except for Gore. He has to sit a lot. #
  • @chicobangs also, I'm not sure if you did, but I pictured you holding your finger in your ear for that comment. #
  • @chicobangs see, when you people talk that chatter, I wanna vote McCain. #
  • Michael McDonald always reminds me that I bought a $29 import album of his when I was far too young to afford it. PAYBACK! #
  • Why does CNN list it as "Barack Obama's Big Speech"? It makes it sound like a kid's book. Give me sports & politics w/ the tv on mute. #
  • decent-looking Mac MySQL manager: (update to CocoaMySQL) #
  • @chicobangs would have preferred a Karl Mecklenberg 77 jersey. That would have rallied the troops. #
  • @comcastcares - why are all HD channels always freezing up? Don't brag on # of HD channels if you don't have the bandwidth for them. #
  • Lost the second tuner to a recoding of "Live from Abbey Road"; swapped, saw Bryan Adams doing acoustic, killed recording. #
  • packing for trip to RI #
  • @ericwyman can't really justify Sirius when I don't drive anywhere. Same reason I've yet to purchase Ds for that bitch. #
  • how did I turn WEEI on just in time to hear Dale Arnold cooing over Sarah Palin's kids and youth? + #
  • + Michael Felger breaking down Dick Cheney's game and telling me how Republicans don't usually pick VPs just for the votes. Really? #
  • Michael Felger = Tucker Carlson and if I wanted 'EEI's brand of news reporting, I'd subscribe to Stormfront's RSS feed. #
  • @CinemaSuicide Dennis & Callahan are basically the same awful person, so it's ok to conflate the two. #
  • wish there was a better way to import large projects into svn than checking in an empty directory and slowly adding the relevant subdirs #

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A 2 Foot Yardstick

From its beginnings up to now, Economics has concerned itself almost entirely with Finance, so much so most people think of Economics as "the study of money". But it's not; it's the study of incentives. Up until now, money has been the best way to look at how people respond to incentives: what they buy, if they're willing to save, what they spend their entertainment dollars on. Given enough credit card receipts, you could piece together a personality, watch the eras in a life. But tallying credit card receipts from the garbage is the business of a decidedly "dismal science".

I'm excited to watch this change. The change probably started way back in the Chicago School and picked up speed with Gary Becker,but it's the Internet that's made it easy to see like-minded people in action. The group that first caught my eye was one of the first things I found on the web, baseball statisticians. Until I found Rob Neyer's (once-free) column at ESPN, I had no idea Bill James or the handful of other nerds existed. Now there are thousands of people running regressions and creating new metrics online. But there are still only a handful of people making a living at it. Which means the others all have day jobs. It would be nice (for us, not them) to think they're all actuaries carefully setting insurance premiums, but if my non-salad days are any guide, some percentage of them are working in crap customer service jobs dying of boredom or working in a field that doesn't require even a little bit of number crunching.

Pair that with something else I noticed over 8 years working as a consultant: irrespective of size, a lot of companies run on Excel spreadsheets.Some of them are well-designed affairs that link in live data from an Access database (bonus points if the Access database is just a reporting front-end to a more expensive product), some are of the "signle spreadsheet out on a network share on a machine we can't even find anymore" and the other 95% are spreadsheets "emailed around the team the first Friday of the month so we can keep trackof stuff (in an extroadinarily poor way)". Mom and pop shops and Fortune 500 companies make business decisions based on the data in these. But I always wondered how. It seemed like so many seances: cast the bones and read the pivot chart The Elders left us in the mists of time.

An example: one place I used to work at had reams of historical data gathering dust. A database with a record of everything anyone ever did on any project in the past decade and how much time it took. Even though our two biggest challenges were allocating resources and budget overages on projects, no one ever looked at that data. Instead the company paid for a senior manager to get an MBA so he could better crunch numbers. The only thing the MBA did was make him less open to input from others. Along with myself, there was anothe developer with a stastics/ economics background. Every couple of years, we'd get dragged into a meeting to look at a poorly conceived set of metrics in Excel that, theoretically, was going to start getting updated on a weekly basis. We'd explain better ways to measure what mattered rather and how to capture the data without relying on human intervention. And then we'd be patted on the heads and happily ignored. It's not that we could have revolutionized how business was done, but given a couple of weeks and a bit of digging, the company could have had an aid in future budgeting: "on projects of this size with this client, we tend to go over budget by x%" isn't a crystal ball that will fix all budget estimation problems, but it's a heck of an improvement.

I mention this not to grind an ax, however pleasurable, but as a caution the next time someone wants to roll a bunch of measurements into a "dashboard" on your web site. A dashboard is a great concept, but if your car reported the status of the windows, car locks and the current time in a great big analog clock rather than current speed, gas stank status and engine temperature, you'd be driving to a hell of an accident,  regardless of where you meant to go. Make sure you know what you're measuring, why you're measuring it and what it means. If you don't know how to filter out noise or when correlation means something, there might be someone around the office who does. Just don't immediately look for a suit and tie.

Twitter Updates for 2008-08-28

  • @rcade the KC Chiefs linebacker? Man, those AFC West rivalries run deep. #
  • @ericwyman re: Gerrard, he must be pretty bad-ass if he's only missing 2 weeks after surgery to the groinal regions. #
  • @CinemaSuicide I'm just going to assume you've heard "The Best Ever Death Metal Band in Denton". My favorite MG song (favorite album, too). #
  • @CinemaSuicide "All Hail West Texas" is my favorite from the 5 or 6 I have. Probably has my top 5 songs by them on it. #
  • @chicobangs so I should watch on mute? Or I'm going to get 2 presidents for the price of 1? Thought we did that in '92. #
  • 'EEI lawyer ad spins it as DUI Defense in case your spouse gets bagged at 2am. Wrong target audience, pal. #
  • Skill I don't possess: key ring updates #
  • @ericwyman Is Mark Kotsay the guy that airmailed a throw into the 1B stands from left in Fenway in the Pedro injury game way back when? #
  • @chicobangs Didn't you get an invite? We got together, watched some Foghorn Leghorn, pretended to care and left the crapper door open. #
  • @chicobangs actually, I think you got blacklisted as a non-native. Sorry, but that's how Lyndon would have wanted to celebrate. #
  • @ericwyman Ida Maria, old Josh Rouse, Hank Williams III. That's as close as I can get from my recent plays. #
  • @ericwyman otherwise, I just go to this guy's profile: He's completely brilliant. #
  • @mikesusz non-web savvy designers make you better at Photoshop when you have to learn to clean up their messes (cough @ericwyman) #
  • @suchatreat did you not see the part about "brilliant"? #
  • Tweaking my W3C print tests. Thought I was pretty good with precise language until going through this. #
  • Dear Josh Beckett & Sox: if you're done for the year, just let us know, please. #

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8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter

  1. Take her someplace nice for dinner
  2. Talk about old baseball cards
  3. Pay for the drinks afterward
  4. Jaegerbombs
  5. Don't spend a lot of money on a nice hotel
  6. If your seats don't recline very well, bring a blanket
  7. Don't stop until you get enough
  8. Be aware I do not have a daughter but do have a sexually-confused younger brother

Yankee Fans: Bad at Math

Maybe not all of them, but what's the point of a blog if not to write incendiary things? I thought A-Rod bashing would be limited to Mike Lupica's awful article yesterday, but last night's meltdown left the Apple so confused  the New York Times is pushing Youkilis for MVP. Fan agita has led to the one thing worse than the sort of blindly anti-statistical baseball commentary that shows up at FireJoeMorgan, bad statistical analysis.

I will grant the author that A-Rod's batting average with runners on base is . . . not fantastic. But the rest of the observations:

  • "In Yankee wins, he hits .358. In losses, many of which he could have impacted, just .251 . . . here is a really telling one. With the margin of a game at 4 runs or greater, A-Fraud’s batting average is a staggering .411. There is your ‘piling on meaningless numbers’ evidence right there." Without context, numbers are meaningless. The splits for everyone ("everyone" defined here as >95%) in the MLB will be higher for wins and lower for losses. When a team wins, it scores runs, when it loses, it doesn't. Teams score runs by getting hits. I think you can put the rest together: in games where the Yankees score at least 4 runs (and possibly 20), players are going to hit well. The Yankees as a team hit .307 in wins and .233 in losses.
  • "Late & Close . . . An OK .288, but with only 7 RBI in 59 at-bats" At the risk of sounding more snobbish than normal, statistical analysis tends to ignore RBIs (and batting average, but that's a different discussion) because RBIs aren't discrete events. With the exception of a solo home run, players need teammates to do something to be able to accumulate RBIs. It would be nice to know how many opportunities Slappy Bluelips has gotten this year in Late & Close situations. It'd also be nice to see the team's Late & Close numbers. Since you asked, the team hits a sub-A-Fraudian .269 in Late & Close situations.

If you did want to support the thesis A-Rod sucks in the clutch (and who am I to deny that kind of hate?), one might point out A-Rod's performance in high-leverage situations, though that will mean explaining what the hell tOPS+ is (I hadn't heard of it until I went and looked now), so make sure you're not trying to convince Lupica. And make sure you include the team's numbers for context (man, 64 versus 92 is pretty shitty).