Thursday, December 30, 2010

Rating Cricketers: Thoughts On A Simple Model

One way to rate cricketers is to measure them on their contribution to winning, or not losing, a match. A team’s chance of winning a match can be modelled as a function of the following factors:

- how many runs the team scores
- how many runs the other team scores
- how many wickets the team loses
- how many wickets the other team loses

And because of the time constraint on a cricket match, whether it is a Test or first-class match to be completed in a given number of days or a match with limited overs, these factors matter as well:

- how quickly the team scores runs
- how quickly the other team scores runs

According to this view, a cricketer’s contribution to the result of the match will depend on their contribution to each of these factors. In terms of bowling, a cricketer’s contribution will depend upon:

- how many wickets the cricketer takes
- how quickly the cricketer takes wickets (i.e. the cricketer’s bowling strike rate)
- how many runs the cricketer concedes from their bowling
- how quickly runs are scored from the cricketer’s bowling (i.e. the cricketer’s economy rate)

What would need to be done to measure the cricketer’s contribution in terms of bowling is to determine how each of these factors affects the team’s chance of winning. For example, each wicket a team takes could increase its chance of winning by, say, 0.5 per cent. A bowler who took 10 wickets in a match would therefore have increased their team’s chance of winning by 5 per cent. As another example, each run a team concedes may decrease its chance of winning by, say, 0.05 per cent. A bowler who concedes 100 runs in a match then would therefore have decreased their team’s chance of winning by 5 per cent.

In terms of batting, a cricketer’s contribution to the result of the match will depend upon:

- how many runs the cricketer scores
- how quickly the cricketer scores runs (i.e. the cricketer’s batting strike rate)
- whether the cricketer loses their wicket
- how long the cricketer can stay in before losing their wicket

And similarly to bowling, what would need to be done to measure the cricketer’s contribution in terms of batting is to determine how each of these factors affects the team’s chance of winning. For example, each run a team makes could increase its chance of winning by, say, 0.05 per cent. A batsman who makes 100 runs in a match would therefore have increased their team’s chance of winning by 5 per cent.

It would be interesting to estimate how important each of these factors is to the result of a cricket match, and how we might reassess the contribution of cricketers in light of them. One concern with this simple model is how to capture the contribution of fieldsmen. All thoughts and comments welcome.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

The Whitest Band In The World

A few years ago Christian Lander, the creator of the blog 'Stuff White People Like', when asked who was the whitest band, replied 'Vampire Weekend... they're pushing it to levels unseen'. As it turned out that assessment may have been a bit premature, as several other contenders have emerged in the meantime. Fleet Foxes and Bon Iver made city-dwelling white people all over fantasise about leaving their problems behind and going to sing and play guitar in a cabin in a mountain forest. The Arcade Fire continue to reach new levels of whiteness, releasing an album that is an extensive love/hate tribute to growing up in the suburbs. And Yeasayer, from Brooklyn via Baltimore, with their world music-influenced pop, and band members named Anand Wilder and Ira Wolf Tuton are perhaps even stronger contenders for the title than Ezra Koenig's crew.

Image: Stereogum

But none of them can compare to the xx. Name a prerequisite for whiteness and this band can tick it off. First, they are all as pale as the moon. The guy singer (Oliver Sim) has the smooth, deep, understated voice to make all white girls swoon and want to buy him a Shiraz Cabernet. The girl singer (Romy Madley Croft) is not overly physically attractive, so white girls don't feel threatened by her and white guys can like her and make believe they are sensitive. They hail from South London, placing them closer to the Tate Modern than Old Trafford. Their name centers around the white person's favourite letter (despite 'The X-Factor', the word 'ex' retains a special place in white people's vocabularies), and their album cover was a masterstroke of white person design - all black, with a white 'x' in the middle of it. Their music is dark, brooding, and romantic; a more mature version of teenager outsider poetry, with lines about bridges being on fire, and becoming crystallised, and watching things on VCRs. The xx are the ubiquitous white person group - they could fit into any white person club in any white person city and be wholeheartedly embraced. Because secretly every white person wants to form a band that is just like them.

P.S. I quite like the xx.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

How To Choose A Beer

People who know me would know that I like variety in my beer choices - someone once remarked that they had never seen me drink the same beer twice. Hence, I was excited when a store opened up near my place (Purvis Cellars) which had over 700 different types of beer - enough for me to try a new beer a day for almost two years. So far I have tried about a dozen new beers from there (note the introduction of the 'What I've Been Drinking' box on this blog), and have found that, really, beers are not all that different. The Whistler Lager from British Columbia I had today was fairly similar to the dozens of Crown Lagers I have had, and even the more exotic Rogue XS and Boont Amber Ale were not that different to other red and amber ales I have had.

And yet I'm still excited by going back to try more beers! Why? (OK, maybe being an alcoholic is part of it.) There are many wines I haven't tried, and yet I'm not as excited in seeking them out. A big part of it I think is the distinctive packaging and naming of beers. Have a new wine and you're likely to forget what it was in five minutes, whereas if you have a new beer, particularly a bottled beer, you're much more likely to remember it and can converse about it at a later date. This applies between beers as well; so far I've been more interested in trying the US and Canadian beers with cool names like Dead Guy Ale rather than the blandly packaged German beers whose names I have little chance of remembering. Frankly, if more wines had names like Dead Guy Merlot I would be more excited about tracking them down as well.

Well, that and beers taste better...

Cheers! - The Man With the Wooden Finger

Monday, October 4, 2010

Reflections on the AFL Grand Final Replay

Each year the AFL Premiership is surrounded by its own mythology about why the premier won and why in some sense it was inevitable. You would think that this year's replay would dispel some of those notions, given how different it was from the first match. But no, stories abound how Collingwood had the class to win a premiership and St. Kilda didn't - never mind that, if Lenny Hayes' kick had bounced the right way into Stephen Milne's hands, St. Kilda would most likely have won the premiership last week.

This is not to deny that Collingwood was generally the best performed team this year - its winning percentage this year indicates that it was - but to dispute how much weight is given to one match. Teams can play seven-game final series and still the better team can lose (even in this case, I thought Collingwood were the better team), so one should be cautious about passing judgment on a player or team based on the events of last Saturday. Collingwood played well enough over the season that they gave themselves a chance to play off for the premiership, but so did Geelong and so did St. Kilda, and we shouldn't overstate the gap between those sides. Last week there was nothing separating the Magpies and the Saints, and if the Saints had scored one more point, some of those 'expert judges' who are singing the Magpies' virtues would be calling them supreme choke artists. And that would be the wrong conclusion to draw as well.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Who is Shane Walsh-Smith?

Yesterday at work I received several emails from someone called Shane Walsh-Smith, who for some reason had put the qualifier (ne Smith) at the end of his email. This prompted speculation around the office as to why Mr Smith would decide to hyphenate his name. I offered that the most likely explanation was that he had gotten married and changed it - not an unheard-of step for a newly married young man, although certainly unusual. The (completely unsubstantiated) contention was that Ms Walsh-Smith may be the sort of person who would make Mr Walsh-Smith do the cooking and laundry when he got home, as well as paint Ms Walsh Smith's toenails and curl her hair.

I then suggested that there were a couple of other possibilities: first, Shane Walsh-Smith may actually be a woman (think Shane Gould), or second, Shane Walsh-Smith may be Shane Smith's cross-dressing alter-ego. This was too much - the mystery had to be solved! I typed 'Shane Walsh-Smith' into Google and got a link through to his Facebook page (I won't be so mean to our Shane to post a link to that page in this forum). This revealed that Shane Walsh-Smith was indeed a dashing young man from Canberra, who is married to Katie Walsh-Smith (nee Walsh), and has a baby girl named Annie (perhaps the real reason Shane decided to hyphenate his name).

He even has a blog at which you can find out about more things Shane-related (this I will post a link to):

Select From Shane

If you visit his blog, you will discover that Shane Walsh-Smith is a writer of graphic novels, both of which you can read for free on his website. It turns out his wife Katie also has a blog, which is more rudimentary than Shane's but appears to be updated more regularly. Katie claims that she is happily married to Shane - whether that is because he does do all the cooking and laundry and paints her toenails is yet to be revealed. (Note: We are only kidding, Ms Walsh-Smith! ... Although maybe we are only saying that because we are afraid of you.)

So, mystery solved! Well, it wasn't really all that much of a mystery, but it's interesting to know that you can find out pretty much anything about anyone nowadays...

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Draw or Extra Time?

While I wouldn't go so far as to agree with Nick Maxwell's (or 'Max Nickwell' as he is known in the Wooden Finger-sphere) assessment that a drawn Grand Final is 'a joke', I would probably agree with Ross Lyon's assessment that, instinctively, extra time would be right course. All of the other finals go to extra time so that the season can remain on schedule, so why make an exception for the Grand Final? That being said, losing in extra time would be a crappy way to miss out on a premiership. At least this way both teams get another shot at trying to get a clear win. Collingwood should have won yesterday, and will probably get over the line next week, but the result is a bit of a blow to their alleged superiority. On that count at least, it wasn't all for nothing.

The Simpsons v Family Guy - Round Seven: Springfield v Quahog

For our last battle and deciding bout, we are putting the entire town of Springfield up against the entire town of Quahog. In Springfield’s corner we have the Flanders, Mr Burns, Smithers, Krusty the Clown, Patty and Selma, Police Chief Wiggum, Moe and Barney, Lenny and Carl, Milhouse, Nelson, Sideshow Bob, Tim and Helen Lovejoy, Lionel Hutz, Troy McClure, and Dr. Hibbert, just to name a few. In Quahog’s corner we have Joe, Cleveland, Quagmire, and… uh, you can start to tell already that Quahog may be in trouble.

The main difference here is that ‘The Simpsons’ has taken time to develop a fair share of supporting cast, often making them the subject of entire episodes. In ‘Family Guy’ most of the episodes revolve around the Seth McFarlane trinity of Peter, Stewie and Brian. Now it is true ‘The Simpsons’ has had more than twice as many seasons, but if you compare both shows at the same stage throughout their tenure ‘The Simpsons’ has always been a step ahead in developing its supporting cast. If I was to pick a place to set up house I’d pick Springfield. Although I’d probably still drop by Quahog for a beer.

Edge: Springfield
Simpsons 4-3

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Simpsons v Family Guy - Round Six: Grampa Simpson v Brian Griffin

No, I am not doing Brian against Santa’s Little Helper – the Simpsons’ dog is such a minor character that a more apt comparison for him would be the Evil Monkey. Abe ‘Grampa’ Simpson is essentially the sixth member of the Simpson family, and as such gets to go up against our favourite canine liberal.

Not that it makes much difference. Brian is to ‘Family Guy’ what Lisa is to ‘The Simpsons’; the closest thing to the voice of its creators and a considerable portion of its audience. Of course, the creators can still poke some fun at Brian’s pretensions, as shown by Quagmire’s stinging critique of Brian’s character and Stewie’s hilarious commentary on the slow progress of Brian’s novel. And Brian has had some horribly sappy moments, such as his infatuation with an old opera singer and his saccharine reunion with his son. But, like Lisa, he tries so hard to bring out the best in himself and others that you can’t help but wish him success. The only times I can remember rooting for Grampa was when that devil Monty Burns tried to steal his lady, and then his treasure. Generally I find him to be more of an annoyance, and if I was in his family I would probably stick him in a home as well. Plus, Brian is cuter.

(So far all the bouts have been reasonably clear-cut, which may have in part been helped by the fact that I have matched up characters with widely varying roles. An interesting exercise is to consider what would happen if, say, I had matched Bart against Stewie, Lisa against Brian, and Maggie and Grampa against Meg and Chris. In fact, the ‘Family Guy’ cast may have come out ahead in all of those cases, but I would still consider ‘The Simpsons’ the better show. Why? Well, for the answer for that, you will have to wait for the final battle.)

Edge: Brian Griffin

Monday, September 20, 2010

The Simpsons v Family Guy - Round Five: Maggie Simpson v Stewie Griffin

This match-up is about as lop-sided as it gets. Maggie is essentially background material, and any attempt to drag her into the spotlight has always seemed a little peculiar. Stewie, on the other hand, has been an integral part of the Family Guy cast since the start. Evil genius, loyal friend (when he wants to be), lover of kitsch, latent homosexual - you could make the argument that Stewie is the most interesting character on ‘Family Guy’. All Maggie really does is suck on her pacifier. And shoot grisly old tycoons. Again, that hardly compares to Stewie’s body count; it's Stewie by the length of a nuclear missile.

Edge: Stewie Griffin

Simpsons 3-2

Saturday, September 18, 2010

The Simpsons Vs Family Guy - Part Four: Lisa Simpson vs Meg Griffin

Poor Meg. She started out as simply another insecure teenage girl and has since devolved into the butt of some of the cruelest jokes that have ever been inflicted on a 2-dimensional being. Her classmates don’t like her, her family doesn’t like her, and even the show’s creators don’t seem to like her very much. (I wonder if Mila Kunis does.) There now seems to be little faith that she can carry an episode by herself, as shown when Peter told the audience that they were in for ‘a Meg episode’, and promptly pointed them to the remote.

Lisa, in contrast, has been the star of some of the most memorable Simpsons episodes: ‘Lisa Vs. Malibu Stacy’, ‘Lisa the Vegetarian’, ‘Lisa’s Wedding’, ‘Lisa the Beauty Queen’, ‘Mr. Lisa Goes To Washington’, and so on. She may be a bit of a know-it-all at times, but there is something heroic about her attempts to bring sanity and compassion to the crazy world that surrounds her. Homer and Bart may be the stars, but we would like to think that we are most similar to Lisa. Put bluntly, Lisa is a firecracker, Meg is a punching bag. Even Lisa would tell Meg to shut up.

Edge: Lisa Simpson
Simpsons 3-1

Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Simpsons v Family Guy - Part Three: Bart Simpson v Chris Griffin

There is the temptation here to go for the upset – the quiet, unassuming loser Chris over the brash, skateboarding hellraiser Bart. And Chris has definitely had his share of under-rated moments, such as when he joined a goth band and sang tunes about the evil monkey in his closet, when he became the favourite target of golfers on the driving range, and when he was pulled into a supermarket aisle to dance to Aha’s ‘Take On Me’. Most of Bart’s best moments were in the first five or so seasons; after that, like Chris, he essentially became a foil for his father’s more enthralling antics.

But lest we be accused of short memories we shouldn’t forget just how many memorable moments El Barto had. Packed within those first few years of ‘Bartmania’ was a greater range of emotional states and social commentary than Chris is ever likely to muster: his training of an army of his classmates to take down the bully Nelson, his cutting the head off the statue of the town founder, his writing a song for his sister’s birthday, his sad, pitiful attempt at shoplifting, his hiring of a car with a fake ID and winding up as an international courier, his joy at getting a ‘D’ and subsequent disgust at kissing his teacher, his selling his soul for five bucks, the ‘I Didn’t Do It’ fad, the Radioactive Man #1 debacle, and so on … Yeah, Chris is a nice boy and Bart is a bit of a douche at times, but you can’t deny the Bartman his due. At least Chris has a cooler voice.

Edge: Bart Simpson
Simpsons 2-1

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The Simpsons v Family Guy - Part Two: Marge Simpson v Lois Griffin

The First Ladies of Animated TV share a lot of similarities - they are both (vastly overworked) housewives/homemakers, they both have three children, they are both the voice of reason in their households due to their dumb-ass, impetuous husbands, they both are the subjects of intense male scrunity, they both rarely change outfits or hairstyles, and they both let you know when you are in big trouble, mister.

But which one would you rather hang out with? With Lois you could have hose fights, smoke pot, make fun of bimbo girlfriends, or launch an attack on the Oval Office. Marge has fun, but generally only of the type that the whole family can enjoy. Lois makes you want to stay at home, Marge makes you want to get out of it. In fairness to Marge, she doesn't have a talking dog to keep her company.

(My wife pushed for Lois on the basis that she was less of a doormat than Marge, and can occasionally kick ass. I am not sure about that distinction: Marge did join the police force and has kicked ass on other occasions when necessary. But I do think Lois is generally the less passive-aggressive of the two - more likely to yell and wave her arms than lower her eyebrow and let out a long 'mmmmmmmmmmmmmm'.)

Edge: Lois Griffin

Monday, September 13, 2010

The Simpsons v Family Guy - Part One: Homer Simpson v Peter Griffin

Homer Simpson is the archetype of the anti-American Dad (no reference to the other Seth McFarlane show intended). When he is not strangling his son Bart, he is either neglecting his kids to go drinking or imparting life lessons like 'two wrongs make a right'. His selfish treatment of his wife Marge has led to their marriage almost breaking down more times than fans can remember. He routinely does stupid things like sell his soul for a doughnut, and invest in pumpkins on the belief that they will peak around January. He's hilariously funny but if you knew him in real life you would go running in the opposite direction.

Peter Griffin is, in many respects, the hyper-Homer: he's fatter, louder, angrier, drunker, stupider, dirtier, lazier, and even more likely to drop a pop culture reference. His abuse of his daughter Meg makes Homer look like the model of compassion. His selfish treatment of his wife Lois borders on the misogynistic. He routinely does stupid things like saying he has to work late while on the phone in the other room and bringing home a mentally retarded horse as a housepet. He's hilariously funny but if you knew him in real life you would take a Peter-copter in the opposite direction.

So why is Homer more likable? Homer Simpson is more likely to give you a wide-eyed stare of childish puzzlement, Peter Griffin is more likely to give you a knowing wink. Consider, for example, their respective experience with homosexuals, in the episodes 'Homer's Phobia' and 'Family Gay'. Homer spends most of 'Homer's Phobia' ranting about how much he dislikes homosexuals, while Peter (thanks to his being injected with the 'gay gene') actually spends most of 'Family Gay' experiencing life as a homosexual. Yet of the two, you feel that Homer comes out the more enlightened. By the episode's end Homer has learnt to see, in his own way, a view of the world beyond his own. Peter, on the other hand, transforms from hyper-Homer to hyper-homosexual and back again, with little hint that the experience has taught him anything. To put it another way: Homer gives himself and his audience room to grow, while Peter is too busy sneering at the audience to grow. And that's enough to make Homer our winner.

Edge: Homer Simpson

Simpsons 1-0

Friday, September 3, 2010

The Wooden Finger All-Australian Team 2010

Yes, it's that time of year again... with the final squad of 40 having been picked, I'm now prepared to take a slightly better than 50-50 shot at who will make the All-Australian team for 2010.

Most of the players pick themselves, but let me go through a few of the potential eyebrow raisers. I have fitted Luke Hodge in on the half-back line, because I think the selectors will cop out in a bid to fit more midfielders in (as with Dane Swan on the forward line last year). Buddy Franklin gets the nod over Pavlich at centre half-forward by virtue of kicking more goals in less games (but I wouldn't be surprised if the reverse occurred). After having missed out on Corey Enright for two straight years I am not prepared to pick against him for a third, nor am I prepared to be wrong on Lenny Hayes again. And of the players that I have left out Adam Goodes, Nick Malceski and Brad Green are the ones I think are likeliest to win a spot.

B: Corey Enright, Brian Lake, Harry O'Brien
HB: Brendon Goddard, Harry Taylor, Luke Hodge
C: Leigh Montagna, Joel Selwood, Dane Swan
HF: Alan Didak, Lance Franklin, Paul Chapman
F: Mark LeCras, Jack Riewoldt, Barry Hall
R: Aaron Sandilands, Chris Judd (c), Gary Ablett
I: Lenny Hayes, Mark Jamar, Scott Pendlebury, Matthew Pavlich (vc)

As an added bonus, here is my All-Australian team for 2000-2009. I had initially done this a couple of weeks ago, with a slightly different team. But the AFL website is now running a competition where you have to try and pick the team that most aligns with former Essendon player's Scott Lucas selections. (Ironic, since Lucas is probably the best player never to make an All-Australian team.) In the spirit of this comp (and as a way of shifting blame for any more eyebrow raisers), I have stuck to the positions they allocated players to.

B: Dustin Fletcher, Matthew Scarlett, Gavin Wanganeen
HB: Andrew McLeod, Justin Leppitsch, Luke Hodge
C: Nathan Buckley, Michael Voss (c), James Hird
HF: Nick Riewoldt, Jonathan Brown, Jason Akermanis
F: Brent Harvey, Matthew Lloyd, Brad Johnson
R: Dean Cox, Chris Judd, Gary Ablett
I: Matthew Pavlich, Adam Goodes, Scott West, Mark Ricciuto
Coach: Leigh Matthews

Monday, August 16, 2010

Graphic Novels That You Would Like If You Weren't Too Chicken To Read Them - American Flagg!

Far be it from me to believe that I could offer more eloquent praise than Pulitzer-Prize winning author Michael Chabon, let me instead quote from his introduction to the first hardcover volume of Howard Chaykin’s American Flagg!:

“ … in 1982… the idea of a science-fiction comic book set in a dystopian American future was not a new one; and most of the fundamental elements of the world Chaykin depicts – earth abandoned by its corporate rulers in favor of off-world colonies, marauding gangs of armed motorcycle freaks, the city as a kind of vast television or information screen that irradiates or medicates its denizens with psychotropic sitcoms, could be traced back to novels by the writers of the New Wave and their successors… But no one had ever crammed those elements all together before, in quite the way that Chaykin did here: the post-nuclear, post-global-collapse, post-Cold War, corporate-controlled, media-overloaded, sex-driven, space-traveling… freak-o-rama that was to be life in 2031.”

“What Chaykin uniquely intuited [was that]… the comic book was perfectly suited not merely to adapting but in some measure to embodying the hybridized, trashy, garish future of simulacra and ad copy that comics had been hinting at over the past decade… Chaykin played, dazzingly, with the effect you could get from just a handful of dull square sub-panels arranged across a big single-panel page on which, in that one big panel, something violent and wild was taking place.”

“The characteristic Chaykin facial expression is the raised eyebrow – of irony, scepticism, puckishness, a satirist’s rage… It’s a combination of punctuation mark, the line that indicates a flexing muscle, and the kind of ripple or wave that cartoonists use to suggest motion, explosion, velocity, shock. I have never seen a published photo of Chaykin in which he fails to sport one himself.”

“Cynical, pompous, or jaundiced, self-aware, embittered, or corrupted, his heroes remain heroes… American Flagg! stands at the glorious mid-point, at that difficult fulcrum poised between innocence and experience… between the stoned, rangy funkiness of the seventies and the digitized cool of the present day, between a time when outrage was a moral position and a time when it has become a way of life.”

I’ll just add this: the first hardcover volume, which collects the first twelve issues (almost universally considered the best of the series, with Chaykin writing and drawing all of them), is one of the most gorgeous artefacts in my collection. The colour, the design, the weight, the smell, the thin red satin ribbon bookmark … it all started a hardcover graphic novel fetish that has (despite the accompanying enlargement in expenses) proved difficult to let go. Come on, how pretty does it look on my bookshelf (along with its hardcover cousins)?

The last word: if you loved ‘Watchmen’ and you loved ‘Dark Knight Returns’ (the real versions!), then there’s a pretty good chance that you’ll love this.

Friday, August 13, 2010

How Should I Vote?

As any Australian aged 18 or over ought to know, next week is the Australian federal election, and I am once again faced with the choice of who to vote for. At first it would seem that, no matter my political persuasion, I am actually in an electorate where my vote is important. I am currently living in the electorate of Melbourne, which is narrowly held by the ALP, but could potentially go to the Greens. If the election is tight between the ALP and the Coalition, this may potentially be an important seat for the ALP to win, and conversely, important for the Coalition that the ALP not win. It is also important for the Greens as well, not in terms of influencing the overall result of the election, but because they have never held a federal seat in the Lower House.

So it would seem my vote could potentially have historical implications then...? Well, not really. As Andrew Leigh (who happens to be running in this election) once noted, the historical chances of one vote determining the outcome in an electorate is about 1 in 4500. That is, the typical Australian would have to wait 1500 years before their vote actually changed the result in an electorate. So any thoughts I have about which way I should strategically vote in this election are essentially useless.

How then should I vote? My vote may actually have some effect, as minute as it is. Under federal election funding rules a candidate is eligible for election funding if they receive 4 per cent of the formal first prefence votes in the state or territory they contested. This funding is around $2 per eligible vote.

Which leads to me this conclusion: I shouldn't vote with a view to influencing the election result but with a view to which candidate/party I want to see public funding directed to (provided I think that candidate will get at least 4 per cent of the vote). Will this make any tangible difference to my vote in the end? I'll find out next week.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Research Phrases That Should Be Systematically Wiped Out

A couple of weeks ago I went to another research conference, which in itself isn't the impetus for this post, but it reminded me that there are several terms that researchers use that really get on my nerves. The following is a list of terms I plan to never use (and if I do there must have been editorial interference):

-literature: Oh yes... the old 'literature review'. Unless your entire purpose is to actually review what previous authors have done (which is what my colleagues did recently, hence this clause saves me from hypocrisy), there really is no excuse for doing a lit review. Often it's used to either show how 'well-read' the researcher is, or to pad out the length - for God's sake, just use what actually affects your own research. Leave the 'literature' to Salman Rushdie.

Acceptable alternatives: articles, studies, evidence, work.

-key: Often used to make a point seem more important than it really is. Or if the author has written a piece of work and hasn't made their message clear enough, so that they feel they need to point out what the 'key findings' are. Not that I am against summarizing - indeed, it's necessary - but I can't stand people hitting their readers over the head with how terribly significant their work is.

Acceptable alternatives: main, summary.

-jointly/co-authoured: Why not just say 'work done with such-and-such'? Why? Because either you want to draw people's attention to your more famous co-author, or you want to say 'Hey look, I have a friend!' Get over it...

Acceptable alternatives: none.

-paper: Yes, I hate the term 'paper', even though I know it's been in academia forever. But such a fetish has developed around the concept that I think we're best rid of it. Plus it's so limiting. Why can't a groundbreaking theory be written on the back of a napkin? Why not do a YouTube video? Why not express it through interpretive dance? Why does it always have to be a freakin' 'paper'? Be creative people!

Acceptable alternatives: see alternatives for 'literature', also add clip, txt msge, etc.

(I will now return to my unresolved rage issues...)

Friday, July 16, 2010

'Scarlet' and 'Casanova'

Partly because I am now on the older side of 30, and partly (or as a result) because my tastes are changing I have found that more and more I have become tired of the standard comic book superhero fare. While DC has had its Vertigo line in place for years now, Marvel has only recently started to offer its own creator-owned line with its Icon imprint. This week I tried two new series from this line - 'Scarlet' and 'Casanova' - (which has actually been around for a while, but not through the Icon imprint; the first issue is a re-release), and both were quite impressive.

'Scarlet' is the more immediate of the two, and has a very interesting concept, although it's actually difficult to glean the concept from the first issue. Essentially, a young scarlet-haired woman decides she's had enough of the wrongdoing in the world, and decides to do something about it, which itself is hardly new, but apparently we're going to see her crusade build up over time from a series of localized incidents into a global revolution. Writer Brian Michael Bendis likes his media and he likes his female protagonists, so it seems like the kind of series he was building towards, even as it is in some ways different from what he has done in the past. The supremely talented (if publicity-shy) Alex Maleev is doing the art, and his photographic style should make the series very pretty to look at, whilst maintaining a sense of realism. Expect a 'Scarlet' film sometime in the next few years as Hollywood-types salivate over this concept...

'Casanova' is a very different series not only to 'Scarlet' but everything else on the stands, and frankly it confused the hell out of me. Artist Gabriel Ba worked with Gerard Way (of My Chemical Romance fame) on 'The Umbrella Academy' and that confused the hell out of me too, so maybe there's a connection. Anyway, from what I can figure out, the main protagonist Casanova Quinn likes to steal stuff, except his dad is the leader of a huge spy agency, and his sister is the top agent. But that synopsis doesn't really do the series justice, and there's things like battles with giant brains, and random liaisons with nurses, and multiple timelines, and who knows what else? I think I like this better than Matt Fraction's other work though because, strangely enough, the weirder it gets the more honest it seems. That is, Fraction seems at his best when he is writing almost purely for himself and doesn't give a toss how stupid it may seem. Then again, by issue four I may be ready to tear the whole thing to shreads. We'll see!

Monday, July 12, 2010

The Finger Points Outwards - No. 25

A while ago it was suggested to me that Boston Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo bore a resemblance to video game character Earthworm Jim (see below). Well, I went on Google in search of an image to demonstrate this and came across this website, which has, among other things, the best comparison for Kobe Bryant I have ever seen.

Friday, July 9, 2010

The Miami Three (And Further Thoughts on LeBronapalooza 2010)

Well, that was wrapped up quickly... With LeBron James' announcement that he will be joining Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh on the Miami Heat next season, all of the major free agents bar David Lee (who looks to be going to the Warriors) have found their homes. So it looks like we can work out who are the winners and losers from this circus.

The big loser obviously has to be Cleveland who, without the best player in franchise history, will be lucky to scrape into the playoffs next year. I feel really sad for Cavs fans - this one is going to hurt for years. The only solace for them is that at least LeBron is not going to the Bulls.

The big winner is obviously Miami who have gone from borderline playoff team to championship contender. How good they will be depends on who they can surround their big three with, but put them down for at least 55 wins over the next few years (barring injuries). Their marketing department will also be huge winners, as LeBron #6 jerseys fly off the rack.

Toronto, Phoenix and Utah are clearly losers, having lost the big men (Bosh, Amar'e Stoudemire and Carlos Boozer) who have been crucial to their success. Phoenix and Utah should still be competitive; Toronto though will be a basketcase.

For Chicago and New York, it is harder to evaluate. Chicago should definitely be a better team with Boozer on board, but Bulls' fans may feel a little deflated given the higher hopes they had only days before. However, given their depth, they are a good chance to be up there with the Eastern Conference's best. I don't think that's true for New York, who have gone through years of pain only to come up with Stoudemire - a great player to be sure, but not up there with LeBron, and possibly no better than David Lee. Optimistic Knicks fans (are they still around?) will counter that they are not done yet, as they still have enough salary cap space to add another star to their roster.

And my beloved Detroit are still losers.

Now all the interest lies in watching these guys come out in their new uniforms next season. Already the speculation about Kobe & Gasol v LeBron, Wade & Bosh in the Finals should be underway. At least there'll be plenty of sun...

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Amar’e’s Going To New York (And Other NBA Free Agency Thoughts)

This year’s NBA free agency class has pretty much overshadowed the season itself – which is not that surprising when you consider that the next five to eight years’ worth of championships may be up for grabs depending on where two-time regular season MVP LeBron James (Cleveland), 2006 Finals MVP Dwyane Wade (Miami), and all-stars Chris Bosh (Toronto), Joe Johnson (Atlanta), Amar’e Stoudemire (Phoenix), Carlos Boozer (Utah) and David Lee (New York) decide to call home. Today the news was that Stoudemire, one of the few star big men in the NBA, will sign a 5-year, $100 million deal with the very much star-starved New York Knicks. While Stoudemire was quick to claim that ‘the Knicks were back’, the worth of this deal will only be able to assessed weeks down the track, when all of this chaos should (hopefully) be over. If Stoudemire’s arrival can convince James or Wade to jump ship, then the deal will go down as a landmark in NY hoops history. However, if not, it’s hard to see it as much more of an upgrade over current Knicks all-star David Lee, who will presumably sign elsewhere now that Amar’e has taken his starting spot. And given Amar’e’s history of injuries, the euphoria in Madison Square Garden may be short-lived.

Apart from Stoudemire, Joe Johnson has already committed to a team, returning to Atlanta for a deal that one ESPN columnist described as ‘the winner’s curse’. While Johnson is a handy player, Atlanta is now paying him like a superstar, which they may very well come to regret. This leaves James, Wade, Bosh, Boozer and Lee as the only major free agents yet to sign. Not long ago, Wade looked a certainty to return to Miami, the only major question being whether he could convince James and/or Bosh to join him. But reports have surfaced that Wade is taking a keen interest in his hometown of Chicago, which is a surprise to those who thought that the Bulls were focusing their efforts on the duo of James and Bosh. Bosh, meanwhile, seems to be the key player in all this, as it is believed that both James and Wade would like to play with one of the NBA’s few other star big men (and one who is younger and reportedly more congenial that Stoudemire). I think it’s a fair bet that Bosh will end up with one or both of the two. As for James, who knows? My heart hopes he stays in Cleveland, but if I were LBJ the prospect of teaming up with Bosh, and young stars Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah (who took the Bulls to the playoffs last season) in Chicago would be very hard to resist.

So, with all that said, here are my predictions: Wade and Boozer to Miami, James and Bosh to Chicago (as much as it pains me to think of it) and Lee to sign with Utah or New Jersey. But all it takes is one player to make an unexpected move for the whole landscape to change. Meanwhile, I’m still crying over the fact my beloved Detroit Pistons spent all of their cap space last season on Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva…

Monday, July 5, 2010

Welcome (Back) To The Galaxy!

The original ‘Super Mario Galaxy’ for Nintendo Wii was, without a doubt, the greatest video game I have ever played. When I first played SMG it had been many a year since I had been a committed video game player; in fact not since the dying days of the now-many times superseded Nintendo Entertainment System had I followed the new video game releases with any regularity. Hence, I had missed ‘Super Paper Mario’, ‘Super Mario Sunshine’, ‘Super Mario 64’ – even ‘Super Mario World’! – in the time between then and when I first popped SMG into our Wii. Needless to say, I found SMG completely addictive, to the constant bemusement of my wife, until she started playing it and found it even more addictive. Compared to the 2D graphics and ‘run, jump, bop’ of early Mario games, SMG was a revelation in terms of its range of gameplay options and beautiful 3D worlds.

All of which made SMG2 the most eagerly-awaited item in the Wheatley household since the release of the ‘Mad Men: Season 3’ DVD box set. So what’s the verdict? I had heard varying reports about how much different it was from the first game; having played through about 30 galaxies to date, I would say it is not a dramatic departure. The best analogy I have been able to think of is those movie sequels that work well because all of the foundation has been laid out in the first instalment, leaving the second instalment to just kick things off from there. Similarly, although SMG2 does run through for newbies the basic moves from the first game, experienced players can get right into the new stuff, of which there is a lot. Yoshi’s return is the most obvious example, although he actually isn’t as prominent as the advance press would have you believe, with Mario still having to tough out most levels by himself. (The level in which Yoshi swallows a hot chilli pepper and then uses the fire coming out of his butt to sprint up steep walls is a highlight to date.) There are plenty of new bosses, and while defeating most of them involves figuring out that boss’ one weak spot and raising holy hell on it, there are quite a lot of variations on how that is achieved. And there are several new transformations (Cloud Mario, Rock Mario), and heaps of new ideas for galaxies that will keep you entertained for months on end.

So better? Yeah, I’d say so. The best quote I have read about it (from Edge Magazine) is that ‘this isn’t a game that redefines the genre: this is one that rolls it up and locks it away’. Well, let’s hope that isn’t strictly true: while I struggle to see where they can go next, one could easily have said the same after the first game. There has got to be at least a few more places where they can they hide those friggin’ power stars yet…

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The "John Doe" Posts No.6 - Wrath: Why I Am The Only Person Who Should Travel on Melbourne's Tram System

Feb 9, 2010

1) When you quickly ‘nip out’ in front of a great big moving tram that is five metres away from flattening you, you do not look inconspicuous, you do in fact look like a frightened bird about to get smashed by a bulldozer.

2) To all the people crowded (in this context, six or more is a crowd) around the door when the rest of the standing room is empty – the people in the seats don’t bite.

3) To the loud-mouthed man trying to squeeze on to the step of a crowded tram, shouting ‘Could people please move down the tram?’ – you may be in the right (see point 2), but you are still an arrogant tool.

4) It may be petty, but there is a small sense of satisfaction to be had when the person behind sharply says ‘Excuse me’, only to realise a second later their command was completely superfluous because you (and twenty others) are getting out at the same stop as them.

5) If there are only five people on a tram, why is there a need for a stranger to sit next to me? Are they lonely? Do they need comfort?

6) Perhaps I have my headphones in so I don’t have to listen to you – did you ever think of that?!

7) Why do so few people know the Golden Rule of tram-catching? If you have a) been waiting five minutes or more for a tram and b) two come at once and c) they are both going past your destination and d) it is a time of day when people tend to catch the tram, then you should always, always catch the second one. The first one is likely to have people sitting on each other’s shoulders, while you’ll be able to swing a set of shopping bags around the second one. (On second thought: maybe this should be kept a secret…)

Monday, May 10, 2010

The "John Doe" Posts No. 5 - Gluttony: The Melbournian Beer Hierarchy

Feb 3, 2010

Group One: Beers that can not be surpassed

1. Obscure beer drunk in small bar overseas that no-one can ever prove/disprove what it tastes like

Group Two: Credibility gainers and conversation starters

2. Beers from Victorian microbreweries (preferably close to your home, so that you can claim local knowledge) – e.g. Mountain Goat, Grand Ridge, 3 Ravens
3. Imported beers that nobody else at your table has seen before tonight
4. Beers from interstate microbreweries (preferably regional), and lesser known Matilda Bay beers – e.g. Bohemian, Dogbolter

Group Three: Generally acceptable choices

5. Little Creatures (too well-known to be considered a microbrewery)
6. Imported beers that are major exports but which you wouldn’t see advertised here – e.g. Quilmes, Erdinger
7. More commonly known Matilda Bay beers – e.g. Redback, Fat Yak
8. More commonly known imported beers – e.g. Corona, Asahi, Hoegaarden
9. Coopers (yes, despite it being from South Australia)
10. Crown Lager
11. Cascade/James Boag’s

Group Four: Acceptable if only beer available or only beer available on tap

12. Heineken, Becks
13. Carlton Draught

Group Five: Drink at the peril of your beer-swilling credibility

14. Victoria Bitter
15. Melbourne Bitter
16. Foster’s
17. Toohey’s New, XXXX, West End, Emu.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Another Secret To Winning Your Football Tipping Competition

In a previous post I argued that, since it is not difficult to be a 'rational, informed football tipster', one's success in a football tipping competition (at least if you are of the rational, informed football tipping variety) is mostly due to luck.

However, when I was telling someone else this theory, they added a wrinkle that I found interesting. This person said that your chances of winning may be improved by not being too rational or informed. Their argument was (or at least how I have subsequently interpreted it) that a person who thinks about it too much would tend to pick closer to the consensus, whereas actually winning the competition involves a degree of risk-taking, either through a small lack of knowledge or some other reason.

I suppose that a degree of risk-taking is needed to actually win was implicit in my argument (otherwise how do you differentiate yourself from everybody else), but I had not thought about it in exactly this way. Anyway, if it seems that the winner of your tipping competition is often a person with an OK, but slightly tenuous, knowledge of football, this may well be the reason.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

The "John Doe" Posts No. 4 - Sloth: The Philosophers’ Guide to Ways in Which To Prioritize Your Life

Jan 31, 2010

The Epicurean Way: Do those things which bring you most pleasure.

The Stoic Way: Do those things which need to be done and suck it up.

The Cartesian Way: Do those things which can not be thought or imagined away.

The Machiavellian Way: Do over others before they do over you.

The Positivist Way: Let Task 1 = x, and Task 2 = y, if x then y.

The Nietzschean Way: Do whatever the hell you want to.

The Augustinian Way: Do whatever the hell you want to, but God is right to punish you for it.

The Hobbesian Way: Do whatever the hell you want to, but your leader is right to punish you for it.

The Existentialist Way: Do whatever the hell you want to, but it doesn’t mean anything.

The Zen Way: Do and not do - it’s not about the doing at all.

The Taoist Way: The Way is neither doing or not doing.

The Heideggerian Way: Who is doing what now?

The Postmodernist Way: Doing is so last millennium.

The Skeptics’ Way: Find a reason not to do anything.

Monday, May 3, 2010

The "John Doe" Posts No.3 - Envy: The Consolations (or not) of 'The Black Swan'

Jan 22, 2010

In Nassem Nicholas Taleb’s ‘The Black Swan’, in a chapter called ‘Giacomo Casanova’s Unfailing Luck’, he points out the inevitable narrative bias in the stories that we read. Taleb relates how ‘Casanova felt that every time he got into difficulties, his lucky star… would pull him out of trouble’. But Casanova’s luck, it is argued, should not necessarily be seen as evidence that destiny favoured him above all others. Rather, out of all the ‘risk-takers’ in history who got themselves into scrape after scrape, there is going to be someone (or a few someones) that will pretty much always get out of them. And the stories we read will be written by these winners (the losers may well not live to tell their tales), who will attribute their success to their cunning, their charm, or their outlook on life, and pretty much anything besides their dumb luck in being one of the fortunate survivors.

Another example that Taleb gives are the books written by self-made millionaires providing tips and insights into how they made their dough. They will talk about what happened to them, and then make the generalisation that, if others only follow the same steps, they will get the same result. What they don’t see is that many other people with similar attributes did not turn out to have the same extraordinary level of success (while some were even miserable failures), because very few people want to read about those who did not succeed.

This line of reasoning potentially provides some consolation as to why you may be an excellent writer, musician, or stock market speculator and still, no matter how hard you try, not have the world at your feet. Or does it? The problem is that what Taleb calls the ‘narrative fallacy’ is so widespread that you will have a hard time convincing those smug, successful stock market speculators (or conversely, those who were abject failures) that their position in life is due in large part to blind luck. No doubt many of them will say you are making excuses for your lack of similar success. And they may well be right to an extent, but not as right as they think. In that case, if you want to wipe the smile off their face, perhaps the best you can do is hope that their dose of bad luck is just around the corner.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The "John Doe" Posts No.2 - And God Bespoke

Jan 16, 2010

The term ‘bespoke’, used in Britain, is (according to Uncle Wiki) derived from the verb bespeak, meaning ‘to speak for something’, and is used to refer to items that are made according to a particular buyer’s specifications. I became familiar with the term from reading the UK version of Esquire magazine, which primarily used it in relation to suits. A writer for Esquire claims that a bespoke suit helps ‘you achieve the perfect figure’ and ‘moves like a second skin’ (Esquire, Jan 2008, p. 141). The magazine then devotes several more pages to suggesting that one’s whole wardrobe be bespoken, including shirts, ties, shoes, sweaters, and even one’s scent.

But why stop there? Surely there are other items in life that one would like to have made to one’s exact specifications or to express who they really are? Here are at least five examples that I can think of that would be ripe for bespoking:

Bespoke desktop computer – Mine would have tightly fit, absorbent keys to protect it from crumbs and errant beverages. I would also want a monitor that instantly vanishes whenever someone attempts to peep at my screen and a function that automatically saves documents every ten seconds to save my paranoid self from doing so. Oh, and I’d need an Ana Ivanovic screensaver too.

Bespoke car – To truly express my attitude towards driving I would have my car do all my driving for me while I sat back and drank margaritas, and have it fitted out with mechanical arms with permanently raised middle fingers.

Bespoke Christmas tree – All layers of the tree should start at my chest level so as to facilitate the easy hanging of baubles (hence, saving my already 50 year-old back), and then be raised and lowered as required. This latter function would also allow my somewhat shorter partner to complete most of the festive decorating.

Bespoke theme music – I reckon some ‘Morning Glory’ by Oasis when I woke up (won’t the neighbours love that?), followed by some Grizzly Bear for when I’m walking to work, particularly if there’s some light rain, otherwise maybe Peter Gabriel’s ‘Solsbury Hill’, Radiohead is appropriate for pretty much any situation in the workplace (‘Paranoid Android’, ‘Everything In Its Right Place’, ‘A Wolf At The Door’, etc.), and then when I go out, I’ll choose whatever is the hit single from whatever album I bought in the past four days. Yes, I know I could just play all these songs on my iPod, but everyone should have to listen to and appreciate my musical taste, dammit!

Bespoke nose – To fit the specifications of my face.

The "John Doe" Posts No.1 - Greed: In Appreciation of Scrooge McDuck or 'Scrooge and Society'

Over the next several weeks, I will reproduce on this site the "John Doe" posts that I wrote for the seemingly-defunct Sins Weekly blog. As you will see, each of the posts was based on one of the seven deadly sins. Enjoy! - TW

Jan 7, 2010

In an interview in ’93, comic book writer/artist Don Rosa talked about the first appearance of Uncle Scrooge and the scene in that issue which, to him, ‘just seemed to perfectly crystallize the personality’ of Scrooge McDuck. This scene, Rosa argued, indicated that the reason Scrooge wanted all his money wasn’t greed at all. As his nephew Donald is leaving he says that, “You may not know it, Uncle Scrooge, but for all your money you’re only a poor old man.” The next panel shows Scrooge wondering if Donald may be right, and then he replies, “No man is poor who can do what he likes to do! And I like to dive in my money like a porpoise. And burrow in it like a gopher. And toss it up in the air and let it hit me on the head!” Rosa suggests that perhaps Scrooge’s words meant more to him than anything in his life, as it showed that ‘you’re not poor as long as you can do what you dream about.’ (Advance Comics, Number 54, June 1993, p.24)

Recently I’ve been involved in editing an article on social inclusion, which is essentially the idea of providing people with the resources, rights and opportunities to engage in society. The case of Scrooge McDuck though presents an intellectual quandary to social inclusion theorists. Scrooge has all the resources he could ever need, yet has little interest in interacting with his fellow man (or duck, as the case may be). And yet he’s perfectly happy to keep it that way. Burchardt, Le Grand and Piachaud (1999) struggled with the notion of whether the concept of social exclusion should be extended to those who choose not to participate in society (Burchardt, Le Grand and Piachaud, Social Exclusion in Britain 1991-95, Social Policy and Administration, Vol.33(1), p.227-44.). Their concern was that while the individual may prefer to spend their days sitting alone in their mansion staring angrily over their spectacles, it may not be a positive thing for society as a whole. In the end they basically create two different definitions of ‘social exclusion’, one in which voluntary exclusion is a problem and one in which it isn’t, and they concentrate their efforts on exploring the former.

But the other issue here is who the exclusion is really a problem for? Not for Scrooge I think – maybe the Dickensian version had his Christmas epiphany, but the whole point of the passage above, as Rosa understood it, is that his feathered successor wouldn’t change a thing. Really the concern here seems to be that others could benefit if the Scrooge McDucks of this world cared more about what was going on outside their money bins. But if all those who wanted to be included in society could do so without Scrooge’s help, would we really care about what that crazy old bird did? I suspect not. In other words, Scrooge’s inclusion in society would be a means to an end, but not an end in itself. Tax him for all he’s worth sure, if that’s how you think those ends can be achieved, but when all is said and done perhaps Scrooge’s preferred attitude towards society is to reject it. And, you know what, que sera sera ... not everyone wants to be a Donald, and maybe very few people want to be a Scrooge, but surely a fully functioning society is big enough to accommodate both of them… isn’t it?

More of the Same #s 1, 2 and 3 Recaptioned

Following on from yesterday's discovery, let's see how this blog's own comic strips would benefit from the use of a certain phrase:

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Finger Points Outwards - No. 23

It has been suggested that all 'New Yorker' cartoons should be re-captioned this way.

Which led to the suggestion that all cartoons should be re-captioned this way.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Questions to Ponder About the Melbourne Storm's Punishment for Salary Cap Breaches

(Hooray! My first and probably last Rugby League post ever!)

1) We know that the Melbourne Storm were stripped of their 2007 and 2009 premierships and their 2006, 2007 and 2008 minor premierships, but what about the years in which they did not win anything? Shouldn't they be deemed to have finished last from 2005 to 2010? Does this mean that a team's punishment for salary cap breaches is dependent upon whether they have actually achieved anything?

2) What happens now if other teams are retrospectively found guilty of breaching the salary cap? Could we have a season in which five or six teams are unable to earn premiership points? Could we have a five year period in which no premiership is deemed to have been awarded?

3) Why should the Storm try in any game this season? Why should they turn up? Could they use this opportunity to take out the kneecaps of the Broncos back half or the Sea Eagles front line? Could other teams pay Storm players to do this? Should the Storm field a team of under-10s? What about them having, say, Rob Mills go up against Willie Mason? Can't the Storm now fix any match they play in?

4) What will Molly Meldrum do with the front of his house?

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Richmond and that Stupid Draft!

In today’s Age, Jake Niall essentially argues that Richmond is being screwed over as a result of Gold Coast’s entry into the competition, in that even if they finish last they can pick no higher than No.4 (and if they finish 2nd last, could potentially pick as low as 8th). Niall’s position is that Richmond should receive some sort of compensation from the AFL. While I’m normally against this type of thing, even for my own team, I say hell yeah! You may think that the National Draft would have considerably helped Richmond over the years, but no team has been screwed over by the draft system as much as Richmond has. Don’t believe me? Read this sorry history of draft misfortunes…

1987 – Richmond gets first pick in second-ever National Draft, in which almost all players drafted do not play a senior VFL/AFL game. Uses first pick to take Richard Lounder, who plays 4 VFL games.
1989 – Richmond gets first pick in fourth-ever National Draft, in which most players drafted do not play a senior AFL game. Uses first pick to take Anthony Banik, who plays 49 AFL games.
1992 – Richmond win final home-and-away game to finish 3rd last, made to pick 7th as Sydney and Brisbane get two priority picks each (and Sydney trades both of them). Justin Leppitsch picked at No.4.
1993 – Richmond also made to pick 7th in ’93 pre-season draft as Sydney and Brisbane share first six picks, snagging Richard Osborne, Brendan McCormack and Adrian Fletcher. Richmond gets Stuart Steele.
1999 - Richmond finishes 5th last, gets 7th pick (although trades up to 3rd pick).
2002 – Richmond finishes 3rd last, gets 4th pick and trades it to Kangaroos in Carey-Kane Johnson-Torney deal. Carlton gets stripped of first two picks and pick 4 becomes pick 2.
2003 – Richmond finishes 4th last, gets 6th pick (although trades it for Nathan Brown).
Do receive 4th pick in pre-season draft, and watch as first three teams take Jade Rawlings, Nick Stevens and Phillip Read. Richmond gets Ben Marsh.
2004 - Richmond gets its only priority pick ever! Yes, I wish I was freaking joking! (Technically, they did receive a priority pick in 2007, but not until the end of the first round.) Richmond picks 1st in pre-season draft, no-one important available, resorts to picking Trent Knobel.
2005 – Richmond finishes 5th last, gets 8th pick. Scott Pendlebury is taken with 5th pick, and Patrick Ryder with 7th pick.
2007 – Rules for receiving priority picks changed. Richmond becomes first team ever to finish last and not pick first in National Draft, as Carlton receives priority pick (and trades its No.3 pick in Chris Judd deal). Richmond picks 1st in pre-season draft, no-one important available, resorts to picking David Gourdis.
2009 – Richmond finishes 2nd last, gets 3rd pick. Richmond picks 2nd in pre-season draft, after Melbourne has taken Joel Macdonald.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Secrets To Winning Your Football Tipping Competition

Against my better judgment, I entered a football tipping competition this year. I say against my better judgment, because over the years I have come to realise that my performance, for better or worse, will be mainly determined by luck. Luck, you say? Allow me to explain …

First, let’s imagine that you know very little about football. In this case, a simple strategy for choosing winners would be just to pick the favourite with the bookmakers. This strategy is likely to get you a pretty good score, and probably isn’t too far off what a lot of other people will do. Now, if everyone in your competition chooses this strategy you will all end up no better or worse than anyone else. Of course that doesn’t happen, but it gives us a useful benchmark for explaining how and why people get different results.

One reason is that people may be loyal to their team. Doing this is likely to hamper your results, in some cases severely. The worst case scenario is your team is not expected to win any game, and this expectation turns out to be correct. In this case, all other things being equal, in a 22-game season you will end up 22 points behind your rivals. Obviously, the shortfall will lessen the more games your team wins; however, this strategy can really hurt your chances even if you follow a successful team. For example, if your team wins 15 games, you will still be wrong for the other seven – so other tipsters need to also be wrong about your team 7 times for you to remain on par with them. Conversely, having an irrational hatred for a team that ensures you never or rarely pick them will also hurt your chances. Other strategies that are likely to be harmful are picking teams based on colours or names, since you are making no use whatsoever of the information about a team’s actual likelihood of winning. You may indeed get lucky, but the odds are against you.

Let’s put aside for now all the people that pick teams based on loyalty, colours, or anything else that’s not based on a team’s actual likelihood of winning. That just leaves what we will call the informed, rational tipsters. Now, you don’t have to be a football nerd to fall into this category, you just need to have a rough idea of the ability of each team and actually make your tips based on this. Indeed, it is crucial to the argument that it is relatively easy for a person to fall into this category – if they didn’t the ‘nerds’ would be much more likely to win. Many tipsters will have a good idea of who the favourite is; for example, you could just follow the bookmakers’ favourites as suggested above. But the ‘favourite’ need not strictly be the bookmaker’s favourite, even without that information many tipsters would have a good idea which team other tipsters are more likely to pick.

Now obviously, of the informed, rational tipsters, not everyone can outperform the rest of the group. Half of them will be average or above, and half of them will be average or below. What determines whether you outperform the average or not? I believe it’s essentially random chance. What this means is that it is unlikely that you can systematically do better than the average informed, rational tipster. As evidence of this, consider how often people who do really well one year do remarkably average or worse the next. Now this doesn’t preclude people from doing well for three, or five, or even ten years on end. But no matter how much they like to think otherwise, for many of them it will just be because they got really lucky.

Nor does it preclude some people continuously doing well for reasons other than luck. One way to be continuously above average would be to recognise biases in other tipsters’ perceptions. For example, if the informed, rational tipsters tend to overrate a particular team – perhaps because that team is popular – then if you recognise that bias you will improve your chances of being above average. A similar way of outperforming the average would be to devise some sort of system that allows you to rate teams’ chances of winning more accurately than the consensus. This could be through, for example, some statistical model, but I doubt that many people use those. Or you could have better information about teams than the other informed tipsters (but what would that be?), or you could process the available information about teams in a more effective way. While I’m sure that many people would like to think they fall into one of these categories, again I doubt that they do. (I include myself here – maybe, just maybe, I could have a slightly better idea about football than your average informed, rational tipster, but not enough to make a significant difference.)

I’m not saying that everything is down to random chance, for you at least need to know enough about football to make a rough assessment of each team’s actual likelihood of winning. Similarly, I’m not saying that a person who has completely no idea about a team’s chance of winning can not do well, but their odds of doing so are far lower than those who do actually make their tips based on an informed and rational assessment of each team’s actual likelihood of winning. And I’m not saying that people can not do well for years in a row, or that if they do it can not be because they are somehow more skilled at tipping. What I’m saying is that skill is less important than commonly thought, and that luck is the more likely explanation for their success.

So what does mean for football tipping? Well, if you’re just in it for the sake of it, probably not much at all. But if you’re taking your ability to tip correctly as some measure of your intellect, then eventually - maybe not now, maybe not next year, but eventually - you’re probably going to end up somewhat disappointed.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Graphic Novels That You Would Like If You Weren't Too Chicken To Read Them - 'The Authority' and 'Planetary'

“We were the fucking Beatles,” said writer Warren Ellis of his twelve-issue run on ‘The Authority’ with penciller Bryan Hitch, inker Paul Neary and colourist Laura Depuy. Like most Beatles comparisons there is some hyperbole to Ellis’ remark, but ‘The Authority’ was certainly a shot in the arm – or should that be a kick to the pelvis – to superhero comics when it first appeared in ’99. (It would become known as one of the definitive ‘post-superhero’ series – a pretty cool term that seems to have disappeared from the present-day lexicon.)

While the creators were not the first to use what was known as the ‘widescreen’ style of comic book storytelling, they became the most identified with it, particularly the art team of Hitch and Neary. Essentially, each story was spread out like the creators were making a big-budget movie, with wide panels and plenty of ‘splash’ pages showing cities being blown up, bad guys being ripped apart, and even, in their last story, God’s brain being electrocuted.

The team – led by Jenny Sparks, the spirit of the 20th century – were also insanely powerful. Apollo and the Midnighter were essentially Superman and Batman with less scruples, Jack Hawksmoor could order entire cities to fight for him, the Engineer could use her liquid machinery to make big-ass weapons, and the Doctor, Earth’s shaman, could do pretty much anything he wanted. Needless to say, they weren’t exactly the nicest superhero team going around, but they did have principles, which prevented the title becoming simply an outlet for blood lust. And, you know, watching the Midnighter fly the Authority’s ship straight into the bad guy’s headquarters is pretty fun.

Although the Ellis/Hitch books were some mighty fine storytelling, the issues that followed, written by Mark Millar and drawn by Frank Quitely were, in my opinion, even better. Defenders of the Ellis/Hitch run have claimed (give or take a bit of paraphrasing) that the Millar/Quitely issues were too nasty, too obvious, too reliant upon shock rather than awe to suck readers in. Ellis’ Authority were known to ruminate upon their hyper-aggressive methods (‘How many people you think we killed?’ one member asks at the end of one of their typically brutal battles), Millar’s Authority positively revelled in them.

Personally though, I prefer the Millar/Quitely issues because they seem to me to have more depth – I prefer two issues of ideas crammed into one rather than one issue of ideas spread over four. A typical Ellis/Hitch sequence has Apollo and the Engineer pat themselves on the back for four pages for travelling to the moon. In roughly the same space Millar/Quitely move from inappropriate jokes about sharing toilet facilities with refugees to media debates about the Authority’s deposing third-world dictators to speculative remarks concerning reincarnation. Or to put it another way, Ellis wanted you to sit back and take notice of how good the story was, Millar just got on with it.

Ellis’ approach of reminding readers just how awe-inspiring everything is was carried over to his other popular series from the turn of the millennium, ‘Planetary’ (drawn by John Cassaday). Where ‘Planetary’ makes up for it is in the variety of its subjects and storytelling techniques. The rather ingenious idea behind the series is to follow a team of super-powered archaeologists as they dig through the refuse of pulp and popular culture from the past century. Hence, we have stories about an island of giant monster corpses in Japan, a murdered cop in Hong Kong that returns as a spirit of vengeance and an alien ship that has been stranded on Earth since the time of the dinosaurs.

Another strong point of the series is its main cast – the Drummer may be, as one of his teammates calls him, ‘a pet living fart’, but the other members, Jakita Wagner and Elijah Snow, are two of the coolest characters in modern comics. Jakita is savvy and super-strong, and has joined the team for the purpose of saving herself from boredom, which as motivations go, shows remarkable honesty. Elijah, meanwhile, is roughly 100 years old, and has built up intimate connections with some of the century’s most important (fictional) figures, including Sherlock Holmes. They can be pretty nasty as well – Elijah doesn’t mind resorting to the odd kick in the unmentionables to beat a foe – but compared to the Authority there is more of a sense of adventure with this team, as opposed to a sense of doing whatever it takes to get the job done.

Indeed, resolutions are hard to come by in ‘Planetary’, stories end anti-climatically, their completion seemingly determined more by page count than anything else, and very few questions are answered until at least the twelfth issue. But perhaps it’s also these qualities that mean, of the two series, ‘Planetary’ will be the one that remains most relevant in the years to come.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

How Productive Was Andrew Gaze?

Win Score is a metric developed by economist Dave Berri (and co-authors) to evaluate how productive NBA basketball players are. Essentially, players are rated highly if they make good use of their team’s possessions by scoring efficiently, and/or gain a lot of possessions through rebounds and steals, and are rated lowly if they waste their team’s possessions by scoring inefficiently and/or lose possessions through turnovers. Hence, players that score a lot do not necessarily rate highly on this metric if they take a lot of shots to score their points. The formula is as follows:

Points + Rebounds + Steals + ½Assists + ½Blocked Shots – Field Goal Attempts – Turnovers – ½Free Throw Attempts – ½Personal Fouls

Despite my previous reservations, I think it is probably the best metric (apart from Berri’s own Wins Produced) available for assessing basketball players. For example, using Win Score Mr Berri predicted that, because Kevin Garnett is even more valuable than commonly thought, Boston had a very good chance of winning the championship when they acquired him (which they did). More regrettably, Berri predicted that my (and his) beloved Detroit Pistons were set to take a tumble when they traded the very productive Chauncey Billups for the high-scoring but relatively unproductive Allen Iverson (which they did). Iverson is a good example of a player who does not rate highly on this metric because he misses a lot of shots and commits a lot of turnovers.

Australian basketball fans will be well acquainted with Andrew Gaze, and the fact that he scored a truckload of points (over 30 points per game in fact). But in over 20 years of basketball Gaze won only two championships. Could Gaze then be similar to Iverson in that he scored a lot of points, but that he didn’t really help his team to win (although, to be fair, Iverson hasn’t won any championships)? To answer this, I plugged his career statistics into the Win Score Formula:

18938 + 3102 + 1078 + ½*3533 + ½*222 – 12549 – 2536 – ½*4796 – ½*2046 = 6489.5

Win Score Per Game = 10.57

How good is that? Let’s compare that with Iverson, who according to Win Score is fairly average:

24368 + 3394 + 1983 + ½*5624 + ½*164 – 19906 – 3262 – ½*8168 – ½*1777 = 4498.5

Win Score Per Game = 4.92

Gaze therefore was about twice as productive as Iverson, which is primarily due to his far better shooting efficiency and higher rebounding rate. Now let’s compare Gaze’s results with Michael Jordan’s, who was a very productive player:

32292 + 6672 + 2514 + ½*5633 + ½*893 – 24537 – 2924 – ½*8772 – ½*2783 = 11502.5

Win Score Per Game = 10.73

Those results look pretty similar to Gaze’s. Gaze was better in terms of shooting efficiency and assists, while Jordan was better at rebounds, steals and blocks, and not committing turnovers. I suspect Gaze played more minutes per game than Jordan, but overall, you’d have to say he was a productive player.

Of course, Jordan dominated the NBA while Gaze hardly played there, but these results suggest that to say Gaze was the Jordan of the Australian league is not that far-fetched. This suggests that the reason why Gaze didn’t win as often as Jordan has something to do with his teammates not being as productive as Jordan’s. While I haven’t crunched the numbers, from a quick glance at the Melbourne Tigers career stats I’d say that Lanard Copeland was a main offender. A story for another time perhaps (but probably not here)…

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Stuff White Australians Like

Recently I have been reading the book version of ‘Stuff White People Like’ (which I was reminded that I could read for free online, but screw it, I’m a white person). While the book is as wonderfully ironic as any white person could hope for, it is a shame to us Australian readers that many of the references apply to US (or, on occasion, Canadian or European) cultural elements. Which got me to thinking: if the book had been written in Australia, what would be some of the other stuff that would be on the list?

For those who haven’t read the book or the blog, you must keep in mind the distinction between the right kind of white person and the wrong kind of white person. Although most of Australia’s population is indeed white, many of these people fall into the latter category (a.k.a. ‘bogans’). The distinction will become clearer as you read through the list.

While, in the spirit of both the book and the blog, I would have liked to have also provided commentary, there are only so many hours at work I can waste. Alright, here goes:

Stuff White Australians Like

-ABC Radio
-ABC TV, particularly The 7.30 Report, Four Corners, Foreign Correspondent, and At The Movies with Margaret and David
-Good News Week
-The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald
-The Australian, except for the political articles and the editorials
-Julia Gillard
-Greg Combet
-Maxine McKew
-Peter Garrett before he joined the ALP
-The republican movement (that is, the movement for Australia to become a republic, not to be confused with the US Republican movement)
-The Aboriginal flag
-Test Cricket
-Rugby union
-Being a member of the Melbourne or Sydney Cricket Club
-Office football tipping
-The Sydney Swans
-Degraves St, Melbourne
-Brunswick St, Melbourne
-Smith St, Melbourne
-Lygon St, Melbourne
-Sydney Rd, Melbourne
-Acland St, Melbourne
-All of Melbourne’s inner suburbs
-The eastern suburbs of Sydney
-The National Gallery and National Portrait Gallery in Canberra
-Old Parliament House
-The Australian National University
-The Tasmanian wilderness
-The Hunter Valley
-The Barossa Valley
-The South Island of New Zealand
-Going to the beach after work
-Ben Harper
-Ben Folds Five
-The John Butler Trio
-The Dirty Three
-Nick Cave
-The Triffids
-Eddy Current Suppression Ring
-The Triple J Hottest 100
-Rage (on ABC naturally)
-Memories of Dylan Lewis on Recovery
-Flight of the Conchords, particularly the parts where they make fun of Australians
-The Secret Life of Us/Love My Way
-Marieke Hardy
-Myf Warhurst
-John Saffron
-The Melbourne International Comedy Festival
-Peter Carey
-Tim Winton
-Booker Prize winners
-David Williamson
-Geoffrey Rush
-Cate Blanchett
-Toni Collette
-Living/working/studying in London/New York
-Holidaying in south-east Asia (i.e. Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, Malaysia, Cambodia)
-Travelling around Europe (bonus white person points for Eastern Europe)
-Matilda Bay beers
-Making fun of bogans

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

The 100 Greatest Novels Ever

What are the 100 greatest novels ever written? (That’s novels, not plays or poems… sorry Milton and Shakespeare…) Following the criteria from the 100 greatest albums list, here are the rules:

1) Don’t think about it too much. If something feels like it belongs, it probably does. And if something feels out of place, it probably is. You can argue all day about the relative merits of CS Lewis’ ‘The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe’ and Philip Pullman’s ‘The Golden Compass’, but in the end only one of those feels like it belongs on the list.

2) It is not necessary for me to have read a novel, or even to intend reading it, for it to be included. I would rather be smashed in the head by ‘Clarissa’ than read it – it doesn’t matter, it still belongs here.

3) On a related note, whether I liked the novel or not is also irrelevant. It pains me physically to leave off awesome books like William Gibson’s ‘Neuromancer’ and Martin Amis’ ‘Money’ at the expense of snore-fests like ‘Women in Love’ and ‘Great Expectations’, but that’s the way it has to be.

4) A little bit of research is required. You might think that something like George Eliot’s ‘The Mill on the Floss’, because it’s always billed as a ‘classic’, is generally considered amongst the greatest ever novels, but take a quick glance at a few ‘best-of’ lists and you will soon realise it is not. And who knew Richard Wright’s ‘Native Son’ was so famous?

With those rules in mind, here is the final list:

Things Fall Apart – Chinua Achebe
Little Women – Louisa May Alcott
Emma – Jane Austen
Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen
Go Tell it on the Mountain – William Baldwin
Old Goriot – Honore de Balzac
Herzog – Saul Bellow
Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte
Wuthering Heights – Emily Bronte
The Pilgrim’s Progress – John Bunyan
The Outsider – Albert Camus
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland – Lewis Carroll
Don Quixote – Miguel de Cervantes
The Big Sleep – Raymond Chandler
The Woman In White – Wilkie Collins
The Last of the Mohicans – James Fenimore Cooper
Heart of Darkness – Joseph Conrad
Nostromo – Joseph Conrad
Robinson Crusoe – Daniel Defoe
David Copperfield – Charles Dickens
Great Expectations – Charles Dickens
The Brothers Karamazov – Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Crime and Punishment – Fyodor Dostoyevsky
The Idiot – Fyodor Dostoyevsky
An American Tragedy – Theodore Dreiser
The Count of Monte Cristo – Alexandre Dumas
Middlemarch – George Eliot
Invisible Man – Ralph Ellison
Absalom, Absalom! – William Faulkner
As I Lay Dying – William Faulkner
The Sound and the Fury – William Faulkner
Tom Jones – Henry Fielding
The Great Gatsby – F. Scott Fitzgerald
The Good Soldier – Ford Madox Ford
A Passage to India – EM Forster
Madame Bovary – Gustave Flaubert
Lord of the Flies – William Golding
The Wind in the Willows – Kenneth Grahame
The Tin Drum – Gunter Grass
I, Claudius – Robert Graves
Tess of the D’Urbervilles – Thomas Hardy
The Scarlet Letter – Nathaniel Hawthorne
Catch-22 – Joseph Heller
A Farewell to Arms – Ernest Hemingway
The Old Man and the Sea – Ernest Hemingway
The Sun Also Rises – Ernest Hemingway
Les Miserables – Victor Hugo
Brave New World – Aldous Huxley
A Prayer for Owen Meany – John Irving
Portrait of a Lady – Henry James
Three Men in a Boat – Jerome K. Jerome
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man – James Joyce
Ulysses – James Joyce
The Trial – Franz Kafka
On the Road – Jack Kerouac
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest – Ken Kesey
Dangerous Liaisons – Pierre Choderos de Laclos
Sons and Lovers – DH Lawrence
Women in Love – DH Lawrence
To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee
The Golden Notebook – Doris Lessing
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe – CS Lewis
The Call of the Wild – Jack London
Under the Volcano – Malcolm Lowry
The Magic Mountain – Thomas Mann
Love in the Time of Cholera – Gabriel Garcia Marquez
One Hundred Years of Solitude – Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Rebecca – Daphne du Maurier
Moby Dick – Herman Melville
Gone With the Wind – Margaret Mitchell
Beloved – Toni Morrison
The Tale of Genji – Shikibu Murasaki
Lolita – Vladimir Nabokov
Animal Farm – George Orwell
Nineteen Eighty-Four – George Orwell
U.S.A. Trilogy – John Dos Passos
Remembrance of Things Past – Marcel Proust
Gravity’s Rainbow – Thomas Pynchon
Clarissa – Samuel Richardson
Midnight’s Children – Salman Rushdie
The Catcher In The Rye – JD Salinger
Frankenstein – Mary Shelley
The Grapes of Wrath – John Steinbeck
The Red and the Black – Stendhal
The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman – Laurence Sterne
Treasure Island – Robert Louis Stevenson
Gulliver’s Travels – Jonathan Swift
Vanity Fair – William Makepeace Thackeray
The Lord of the Rings – JRR Tolkien
Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy
War and Peace – Leo Tolstoy
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn - Mark Twain
Slaughterhouse 5 – Kurt Vonnegut
Brideshead Revisited – Evelyn Waugh
The Age of Innocence – Edith Wharton
Charlotte’s Web – EB White
The Picture of Dorian Gray – Oscar Wilde
Mrs Dalloway – Virginia Woolf
To the Lighthouse – Virginia Woolf
Native Son – Richard Wright

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Finger Points Outwards - No.22

A research article that I wrote with Tom Bolton, entitled 'Earnings of employees who are reliant on minimum rates of pay', has been released on the Fair Work Australia website.

Despite its 33-page length, this was actually a very quick article to write! (The graphs take up a lot of room.)