Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Keep Those Novels Simple, Stupid

Today I became aware of the fact that Amazon compiles statistics on the readability, complexity and length of some of its titles. This got me to thinking: how do the books that I like compare to the rest of Western literature? As my profile shows, my top 20 favourite fiction books are as follows:

1 Ulysses - James Joyce
2 King Lear - William Shakespeare
3 Paradise Lost - John Milton
4 Nineteen Eighty-Four - George Orwell
5 Neuromancer - William Gibson
6 The Trial - Franz Kafka
7 Brave New World - Aldous Huxley
8 Money - Martin Amis
9 Catch-22 - Joseph Heller
10 Vernon God Little - DBC Pierre
11 The Man Who Was Thursday - D.K. Chesterton
12 The Great Gatsby - F. Scott Fitzgerald
13 Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov
14 One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
15 Atomised - Michel Houellebecq
16 The Catcher in the Rye - J.D. Salinger
17 Through the Looking Glass - Lewis Carroll
18 The Last Temptation of Christ - Nikos Kazantzakis
19 Waiting For Godot - Samuel Beckett
20 Cloudstreet - Tim Winton

The table below gives the median values for all of the top 20 books that I could find statistics on, and the percentage of fiction books which are below that value:


Median Value of Top 20 Books

% of Fiction Books Below Median Value


Fog Index


37% are easier

Flesch Index


37% are easier

Flesch-Kincaid Index


25% are easier


Complex Words


48% have less

Words Per Sentence


26% have less




54% have less



55% have less



58% have less

So what have we learnt? Apparently I like books that are on the readable side, and not too complex. It may be that I’m a simple guy, but I’m going to take a stab that my preferences are fairly representative of the human population. I also seem to like books that are slightly on the longer side. In fact, if you consider my three favourite books as outliers – ‘Paradise Lost’ being an epic poem, ‘King Lear’ being a play, and ‘Ulysses’ being whatever it is – then the next four highest books – ‘1984’, ‘Neuromancer’, ‘The Trial’, and ‘Brave New World’ – are all pretty typical of my preferences. (Three of those are also science-fiction books set in the Earth’s future, but that’s a subject for another post.)

Since I’ve been struggling with Thomas Pynchon’s ‘Gravity’s Rainbow’ recently, I thought it would be interesting to see how that compares. Unsurprisingly, it’s more ‘unreadable’ and more complex than most of my favourite titles, although not overly so (‘Paradise Lost’ and ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude’ have it well beat in those departments). Where the trouble seems to be is length; it’s about 4 times as long as the median value of my top 20. Maybe that’s why I’ve only managed to get a quarter of the way through it.

Monday, October 22, 2007

The Finger Points Outwards - No.4

Some interesting articles from the past couple of weeks, all of them economics-based:

Why gold-digging is a tough line of work.

Hurwicz, Maskin and Myerson shared the Nobel prize in Economics for their research into 'mechanism design'. While I'm still not sure I know exactly what that means, this article from the Economist helped me to understand it better than most.

Hillary Clinton has suggested that every newborn should be given $5000 that would accumulate interest and be available once the person turned 18. Marginal Revolution considers the economics of this proposal.

And finally, why it's better to be Santa than Scrooge.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

In Rainbows: The Event and the Album

To put it frankly: technology scares me. I haven’t got the call from Guinness yet, but I reckon that I probably have the highest CD-to-MP3 file ratio in the Western world (if I’d been born ten years earlier, it would be the highest vinyl-to-CD ratio). So when those sneaky lads in Radiohead announced they were going to release their latest offering, ‘In Rainbows’, as a download off their website, my reaction was something like a nervous tingle, followed by a shortness of breath, and capped off with the horrible sensation of a paradigm shifting out from under my feet, dropping me into the digital abyss. Where others saw opportunity, I saw minefields. And unless I wanted to wait two months for the ‘physical’ release (a feasible option, but not a palatable one), I had to join the ranks of the internet shoppers behind the monks, the yokels, and the seven year old girls.

For those who were a bit more technologically-savvy than myself, the big news surrounding the release of the new Radiohead album was not that it was available for download, but that the band were going to let buyers choose how much they would pay for it. While putting purchasers through a rigorous series of questions to work out their reservation price would have been a more interesting (and economically sensible) way of doing this, for me this added another quandary to my decision to go down the download route. After a little bit of research on record pricing, which basically consisted of me skimming over some guy’s estimated breakdown (cheers to the Google age!) of the various components of a record’s price, I decided that, after subtracting marketing, retailing and manufacturing costs, around 11 or 12 Australian dollars was about right. In the end though I paid bang on 4 pounds, or 10 Australian dollars. Considering that I was hammered when I entered this amount, Thom Yorke can possibly count himself a little unlucky that I didn’t end up paying for his kids’ educations. I had another prolonged shortness of breath as 50 megabytes of MP3 files were transferred to my desktop, but I think it worked out OK – my computer hasn’t crashed yet and my bank account still has funds. I should stop walking around like ‘a cat tied to a stick’ in another week or so.

Anyway, I should actually say something about the album itself, which is excellent. The people still waiting ten years onwards for a repeat of ‘The Bends’ or ‘OK Computer’ are, once again, going to have to keep on waiting, but everybody else should be well pleased with what they find here. The main point that strikes me about ‘In Rainbows’ is that, after spending the last few albums approximating electronica and other genres of music, Radiohead have now emerged with a style that is definitely their own. Just as they have bypassed the music industry in the release of this record, so too have they staked out a musical realm for themselves that is far removed from what anybody else is currently doing. (In fact, has anyone spotted them in the past couple of years? Have they just been living in a big basement?) Somehow, without us really noticing it, they have woven together their two musical eras. Most of the songs, as has been typical from ‘Kid A’ onwards, are built around haunting, quasi-mechanical grooves, but then somewhere vaguely halfway through they begin to build up and eventually flower into the soaring finales that sent the hairs on the back of our necks standing bolt upright throughout the pre-‘Kid A’ era. The amazing ‘Jigsaw Falling Into Place’ is the best example – it starts out with a insistent drum and guitar pattern (note that ‘real’ instruments are being used here, if that still has any meaning nowadays), and then slides into Thom doing his three-way vocal acrobatics, with more ‘angst’ in his voice than we’ve heard in years. Suddenly, Radiohead are all about the future again, and in an industry bloated by remixes and glorified karaoke singers, that has to be a good thing. Perhaps they’ll even inspire me to use on-line bookstores, you know, on the day when Zadie Smith releases her latest novel in pdf files…

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Did Carlton Get Fleeced In The Chris Judd Deal?

This week, Carlton traded picks 3 and 20 in the upcoming draft and young forward Josh Kennedy to West Coast for pick 46 and arguably the best football player in Australia, Chris Judd. So who got the better of the deal? Let’s consider the draft picks first:

This graph from Footygeek.com shows the average number of games played by each number draft pick. Based on this graph, a No.3 draft pick would be expected to play 65-70 games (although I suspect that number has improved somewhat over the past few years), and a No.20 draft pick would be expected to play about 30 games. On average, a No.46 draft pick has played about 30 games as well, but since that number is inflated by David King’s 241 games, let’s say that around 20 games is about right. This gives West Coast a positive balance of 75-80 games so far.

So how many games would Chris Judd be expected to play? Let’s have a look at some players that are comparable in quality and position to Judd and see how many games they played in seasons after they turned 24 years old. Based on these players, we can probably expect Judd to play another 170-180 games, or about eight seasons worth of matches.

Games played in seasons after turning 24

James Hird – 165 games
Michael Voss – 161 games
Mark Ricciuto – 163 games
Nathan Buckley – 195 games

So then the question is how many games do we expect Josh Kennedy to play? A No.4 draft pick plays around 60 games on average, but that includes busts like Tim Walsh (who played 1 game before being delisted this year). Josh Kennedy has played 22 games by the age of 20, so we should look at other high draft picks that had similar starts to their career and see how many matches they ended up playing. The results might make some Carlton supporters choke on their cornflakes just a little bit:

Games played in seasons after turning 20

Jason McCartney -163 games
Nathan Chapman – 33 games
Justin Leppitsch – 202 games
Jeff White – 234 games*
Anthony Rocca – 177 games*
Shannon Grant – 222 games*
Scott Lucas – 211 games*
Michael Gardiner – 87 games*
Travis Johnstone – 118 games*
Brad Ottens – 131 games*
Trent Croad – 164 games*
Nic Fosdike – 150 games*
Josh Fraser – 114 games*
Paul Hasleby – 125 games*
Aaron Fiora – 109 games*
Matthew Pavlich -136 games*

*Denotes still playing. Only players drafted before 2000 and picked in top 4 included.

Given that almost all of the bottom half of the list could probably play at least another three seasons, it looks like Josh Kennedy has just as many games left in him as Chris Judd has, if not more. Of course it’s not the games that count, but the wins produced. Since the draft picks Carlton gave up are expected to play about 75-80 more games than the draft picks they received and Judd will probably play about another 170-180 games, we would expect that he is going to have to be about 40-50 per cent more valuable than Josh Kennedy and West Coast’s extra picks in this year’s draft to make up the difference.

Is that likely? Recall that for every game these players play, someone else doesn’t, so it depends upon how well they play relative to the average player. For example, say that if we could quantify footballing ability in monetary terms, an average player is worth $300,000. Now let’s assume Josh Kennedy and the No.3 draft pick are worth $400,000 a game, the No.20 draft pick is worth $350,000 a game, and the No.46 draft pick is worth $250,000 a game. Once you subtract each player’s worth from that of the average player, you get a net balance of $300,000 a game in West Coast’s favour. This means that, given that the West Coast players are expected to play more games, Chris Judd would have to be worth about $700-$750,000 a game for Carlton to break even. Carlton supporters probably think that’s likely… but if that groin goes again… of course, maybe I’m just bitter than he’s not playing for my team…

Monday, October 8, 2007

The Finger Points Outwards - No.3

My favourite articles that I've read over the past two weeks:

A Freakonomics Quorum on the future of the music industry. As Steven Levitt himself noted, this couldn't have been more timely given the recent Radiohead announcement.

I don't know whether to feel sorry or not for Marilyn Manson here. On one hand, the author seems to have an agenda against the hedonistic lifestyles of rock stars, and Manson is just the most convenient target. On the other hand, maybe he deserves it.

Yes boys and girls, there's no excuse for being late.

The British Psychological Society lists the most important psychological experiments that have never been done.

And here's a selection from my lovely fiance Lauren:

Be Clever - It's The New Black!