Saturday, January 29, 2011

The Wooden Finger Mix Tape 2010

Side One:

1. A More Perfect Union - Titus Andronicus (7:09)
2. Black Sheep - Suckers (3:42)
3. Madder Red - Yeasayer (4:03)
4. Round And Round - Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti (5:08)
5. Undertow - Warpaint (5:53)
6. Monster - Kanye West (6:18)
7. We Used To Wait - Arcade Fire (5:01)
8. Radar Detector - Darwin Deez (3:09)

Side Two:

1. Terrible Love - The National (4:39)
2. Spanish Sahara - Foals (6:49)
3. The High Road - Broken Bells (3:52)
4. On Melancholy Hill - Gorillaz (3:53)
5. Shampain - Marina and the Diamonds (3:11)
6. Run - Vampire Weekend (3:52)
7. There's Nothing In The Water We Can't Fight - Cloud Control (3:59)
8. Vital Signs - Midnight Juggernauts (5:23)
9. Mace Spray - The Jezabels (5:09)
10. I Found A Whistle - MGMT (3:40)

(Thanks to Daniel S for giving me the idea for this post.)

Friday, January 28, 2011

The Finger Points Outwards - No. 29: Why Derrick Rose is NOT the NBA's Most Valuable Player

The buzz around NBA circles is that Chicago Bulls point guard Derrick Rose is the frontrunner for the Most Valuable Player Award. Derrick Rose? Really? As far as I can tell the case for this seems to be that the Bulls are playing well even though Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer have been injured for semi-lengthy periods this season. Wait, did I say Joakim Noah... I think that means I can use this photo ...

(What did the NBA blogosphere do before Joakim Noah showed up?)

Anyway, this post puts the case for why Derrick Rose isn't even the best player at his position in his conference.

But for those who don't have the foggiest what 'Wins Produced' means, this put the case against Rose's MVP candidacy in layman's terms.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Graphic Novels You Would Like If You Weren't Too Chicken To Read Them - Asterios Polyp/Wilson/Lint (Part Three)

Comic book readers have their fair share of fetishisms, and writer/artist/colourist/auteur Chris Ware seems only to encourage them with his ‘Acme Novelty Library’ series. Each issue comes with its own unique design and packaging, and is printed in limited numbers (also enabling it to be re-sold for an exorbitant price on eBay). Issue number 20, ‘Lint’, is no exception, with its eye-catching floral cover design and gold lettering.

Each page of ‘Lint’ recounts an episode from the life of its protagonist, Jordan/Jason Lint, starting at birth, ending at death, and with a whole lot of sexual imagery in between. It may sound linear; however it is anything but, as Ware’s choice of images and words hide as much as they reveal, and they are arranged across the page in such a way that it is not always clear which panel follows from which. Images from the past intrude upon the present, and often to disturbing effect. Lint makes a number of wrong turns in his life: from schoolyard bully to pothead musician… to worse; still he is a somewhat more sympathetic figure than Mazzuchelli’s Asterios Polyp or Clowes’ Wilson, for he has less of an inflated sense of his own importance, and seems more regretful than they do for the damage he causes. (Also, he is drawn in the soft, fattish sad-sack manner in which Ware tends to depict his protagonists.) ‘Lint’ may take less than an hour to read, but by the end of it you will feel you know this man better than characters you have read about hundreds of more times.

So that’s the end of my brief look at comics’ brush with the literary establishment. Nothing to do now but sit and wait for that Green Lantern movie.

Images copyright Drawn & Quarterly

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Rating Cricketers – Further Thoughts

In a previous post, I said that 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
- how quickly the team scores runs
- how quickly the other team scores runs

Actually, you can reduce a team’s chance of winning a match to:

- how quickly the team scores runs
- how quickly the other team scores runs
- how long the team stays in
- how long the other team stays in

For example, assume in one-day internationals that an average team will score 200 runs and stay in for 250 balls. For a team to bat better than average it has to either score faster than the average team or stay in longer than the average team. For a team to bowl better than average it has to either make the other team score slower than the average team or bowl the other team out faster than the average team. If a team is below average in all of these facets it would be expected to lose more than it wins.

The value of a batsman then is:

Value of how quickly batsman scores relative to average batsman + Value of how long batsman stays in relative to average batsman

And the value of a bowler is:

Value of how slowly bowler concedes run relative to average bowler + Value of how quickly bowler gets batsmen out relative to average bowler

The first part of these formulas appears relatively easy to calculate. In the long-term, for a batsman, the value of how quickly they score is:

Average runs scored by batsman – Average strike rate of all batsmen * Average balls faced by batsman

Let’s say the average strike rate of all batsmen is 0.75. Then a batsman who averages 40 off 60 balls is, on average, creating a value of -5 runs relative to the average team from how quickly they score. A batsman who averages 30 off 35 balls is, on average, creating a value of 3.75 runs relative to the average team from how quickly they score.

But hang on, one batsman is averaging 40 and the other batsman is averaging 30; doesn’t that automatically make the first batsman more valuable? Well no, if the batsman averaging 40 is scoring slower than the average batsman then they are taking away value the longer they are batting in terms of keeping pace with the average team. But the batsman averaging 40 is offsetting this negative effect by virtue of being able to stay in longer than the average batsman, and therefore helping their team stay in longer than the average team.

What is the value of staying in? This appears more difficult to calculate, as it is likely to depend on how many overs are left and how many wickets have been lost. Essentially you would need to work out when a batsman typically comes into the innings and calculate how many more or less runs the team is expected to score as a result of the batsman staying in longer or shorter than the average batsman. Let’s assume the average batsman stays in for 25 balls. For the batsman who averages 40 runs off 60 balls, their value from staying in longer than the average batsman is equal to the extra runs the team is expected to score by not being one wicket further down for those 35 extra balls. If, as a result of this, the team can be expected to score more than an extra 5 runs (recall the batsman was costing the team 5 runs relative to the average team from their slow batting), then that batsman is still making a positive contribution.

For a bowler, the value of how slowly they concede runs is:

Average economy rate of all bowlers * Average balls bowled by bowler - Average runs conceded by bowler

And the value of getting batsmen out would be the difference in runs the other team is expected to score as a result of the bowler getting batsmen out faster or slower than the average bowler.

Alas, I don’t think I have the patience to work out the figures. But the main message I wanted to get across here is that batting and bowling averages in themselves are not useful except as an indication of how long a batsmen can stay in or how quickly a bowler can get batsmen out, and that you can not evaluate a batsman or bowler without taking into account their strike rate or economy rate (a batsman with an average of 40 but a strike rate of 50 in one-day internationals is not a useful batsman). It’s working how to best weight the fall of wickets relative to the pace of scoring which is the tricky part.

P.S. Yes I know that strength of opposition and pitch conditions matter to performance. I'm assuming that, in the long run though, the effects of these on a cricketer's performance should roughly even out.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Finger Points Outwards - No. 28

A webcomic written by a 5 year-old and illustrated by his 29 year-old brother? Whether you think that idea sounds awesome or awful will probably determine whether you like Axecop.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

NBA All-Star Picks 2011

Every year, I run through my head my list of who I think will make the NBA All-Star Game; it’s a handy way of filling in time or trying to get to sleep. This year though, I thought I would broadcast my picks for all the world to see! Aren’t you lucky? Well, first up, let’s assume that those players currently leading the voting in each position will keep their leads, meaning the starting line-ups will be as follows:

Eastern Conference: Guards: Derrick Rose (Chicago) and Dwyane Wade (Miami); Forwards: LeBron James (Miami) and Amare Stoudemire (New York); Center: Dwight Howard (Orlando)

Western Conference: Guards: Chris Paul (New Orleans) and Kobe Bryant (LA Lakers); Forwards: Carmelo Anthony (Denver) and Kevin Durant (Oklahoma City); Center: Yao Ming (Houston)

Now of the West starters, at least one and maybe two will not take their spots – firstly, Yao Ming will be having enough trouble standing upright, let alone stepping on to a basketball court against the best players in the league, and secondly, within a week or two, some sucker franchise near the Hudson River (either New York or New Jersey) may have finally, FINALLY, traded away their future for the most over-rated player this side of Allen Iverson, namely Carmelo Anthony (there goes my chance of him ever following me on Twitter). In Yao’s case, the LA Lakers’ bearded behemoth Pau Gasol - who must certainly get voted in the coach’s by a reserve - is a good replacement at center (although El Pau is listed as a forward, he has played most of his basketball at center this season).

The West team virtually picks itself: Pau’s rival in lanky limbs and shaggy locks, Dirk Nowitzki (Dallas) has once again led the Mavericks to one of the league’s best records, Deron Williams (Utah) has kept the Jazz together after Carlos Boozer did what he does best, i.e. skip town, Spurs’ backcourt chums Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili (San Antonio) will surely be rewarded for being the two leading scorers on the league’s most successful team this season, Russell Westbrook (Oklahoma City) is getting plaudits from everywhere for leading his team in the occasional absences of Kevin Durant, and Kevin Love’s (Minnesota) gaudy rebounding stats and token white guyishness should be enough to overcome the crappyness of his team’s record.

That leaves one spot, possibly two if Anthony goes east. Monta Ellis (Golden State) scores a lot, which will probably get him in, but I’d much prefer Blake Griffin (LA Clippers) who, apart from his spectacular dunking which was spotlighted here earlier this week, can both score a lot and rebound a lot, as well as make rangas everywhere dream of playing basketball. Ellis gets the nod if Anthony goes; alas, perennial pillar of virtue Tim Duncan must miss out and be content with being The Onion’s favourite target for gentle mockery.

Out East, the pickings are slimmer: Rajon Rondo (Boston) is, I think, an even better pick than Rose for a starting spot, but I subscribe to the Wins Produced theory of player value, and am not concerned by the fact he looks like Earthworm Jim, Rondo’s teammate Paul Pierce also gets in due to the simple equation ‘Leading Scorer on Best Team = All-Star Appearance’, Chris Bosh (Miami) started off the season as that funny kind of guy who only looks good because he hangs around the cool kids (LeBron and Wade) but has turned out to be a very fine third wheel indeed, and Raymond Felton (New York) should get enough of a NY media campaign behind him to join Stoudemire at the game.

After that, ugh… I feel Atlanta’s record, particularly in the weak-ass East, will net them an All-Star; I’ll say Al Horford over Joe Johnson, as Johnson is averaging under 20 points a game which is tough to sell as being worthy of an All-Star berth when you are on a max contract and what you are being paid to do is score. One of the Bulls’ big men, Joakim Noah or the Great Deserter Carlos Boozer should probably get a spot, but both have been injured for long stretches; I reckon Boozer gets it as he has been injured slightly less. Although just mentioning Joakim Noah gives me an excellent excuse to use this photo.

Andrea Bargnani will get some support for the final spot, but I can’t support anyone who is seven foot tall and grabs less than six rebounds a game, so let’s give it to another Celtic, either Ray Allen or Kevin Garnett, probably Allen I guess to even up the guards and forwards.

So, there’s my thoughts… damn it, now what will I use to get to sleep?

Monday, January 17, 2011

The Finger Points Outwards - No. 27: Age and Ranking of Men's Tennis Players

Read an article in 'The Age' on the weekend about how the top male tennis players are becoming older - this article shows this is indeed right, at least when you look at the top 100.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Who's Crying Now?

England have won the Ashes not once, but twice, since I posted this (despite, as the Betfair ad would have us believe, the man in this picture betting against them).

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Graphic Novels You Would Like If You Weren't Too Chicken To Read Them - Asterios Polyp/Wilson/Lint (Part Two)

There are few graphic novel creators that are more beloved by purveyors of all things hip and cool than Daniel Clowes and Chris Ware who, because we are also so hip and cool, are exactly the creators we are going to cover over the next few days! On Sunday, I termed the character Asterios Polyp a pompous ass; well, the titular character of Clowes’ most recent graphic novel ‘Wilson’ could best be described as loathsome and, according to the descriptions on the back of the book, ‘a sociopath’ and ‘a delusional blowhard’. (Though he is also described as ‘a delicate flower’ and ‘a devoted father and husband’, which are apt descriptions as well.) It would spoil the humour of the book to give away too much about how he manages to offend every person he encounters, but refusing to give directions to somebody just because they are driving a large vehicle, and sending a family a box full of dog shit are fairly typical examples. So why bother reading about this guy? Because, for all his bile, Wilson is actually not too far wrong in places about the manner in which people live their lives, and the myriad ways in which he confounds norms and expectations will make you think a little even as you cringe in your chair. That said if you don’t like stories in which the characters have few redeeming qualities, this probably isn’t for you. Perhaps the best approach is to pick it up in the bookstore, read a few pages, and see if you chuckle along or want to hit someone over the head with it. Though if it’s the latter, maybe this is for you as well!

Next up, Chris Ware’s latest beautiful issue of his irregular series ‘Acme Novelty Library’: ‘Lint’!

Image copyright Drawn & Quarterly

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Graphic Novels You Would Like If You Weren't Too Chicken To Read Them - Asterios Polyp/Wilson/Lint (Part One)

Perhaps coincidentally, three of the most lauded graphic novels of the past couple of years have been one-off character studies of somewhat maladjusted men: David Mazzuchelli’s ‘Asterios Polyp’, Daniel Clowes’ ‘Wilson’, and Chris Ware’s ‘Lint’. Maybe graphic novel writers and readers are best suited to dealing with these types of people… I’m not going to judge (lest I implicate myself)… but each of these authors does seem to have a pretty good understanding of what it means to be something of a misanthrope. And going down this route does appear to gain the medium more respect than capes and power fantasies have ever done, partly because it allows the personal styles of the creators to shine through, thus showing that the medium has far more to say about the human condition than many believe.

Mazzuchelli’s ‘Asterios Polyp’ is the most self-consciously literary of the three (the author notes claim that Mazzuchelli has been making comics for years, but this is his first graphic novel), and takes as its subject an architect-slash-professor-slash-author. Polyp is, to put it bluntly, a pompous ass; at one point his long-suffering wife, herself a brilliant artist, exasperatedly asks him if he thinks she is stupid because he seems to always assume that what she says is wrong. Polyp’s story is interrupted at points to allow him to pontificate on his theories of architecture and duality, much of which doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, but they are presented in such creative ways that you wish you knew what he was talking about. Unsurprisingly, the thrust of the story is how Polyp learns to curb his arrogance and recognise the importance of others; however, there is no lightbulb-goes-off-in-the-head moment, and Polyp’s journey takes some unconventional routes, involving dream sequences with figures from Greek mythology, radical Communism-spouting country punk bands, and a big-bosomed astrology expert who calls herself ‘a goddess’. Mazzuchelli’s visuals themselves are pretty simple and clean – where the complexity comes from is the way he alters his figures and arranges his symbols so as to develop meaning (abstract though that meaning may be). Yes it all sounds very arty, but it also pokes fun at its own arty-ness, and it’s a bit of a pleasant surprise from an artist who, rightly or wrongly, is still best known for his collaborations with Frank Miller on ‘Batman: Year One’ and ‘Daredevil: Born Again’ (both of which are excellent by the way). Most people who have taken a college or university arts course at some point in their lives would get a kick out of this.

That’s it for the moment; I’ll cover off ‘Wilson’ and ‘Lint’ another time, hopefully later this week.

Image copyright Pantheon Press.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Game Review - Donkey Kong Country Returns

The two-player co-operative mode on ‘Donkey Kong Country Returns’ is a microcosm of any co-dependent relationship: you need to co-ordinate your efforts, use each other’s strengths to progress, know when to let the other monkey forge ahead and when not to leave the other monkey behind, and be careful not to free-ride too much on the larger monkey’s back. My wife and I have made our way across the beach, through the cave, along the forest, and on to the cliff, each of us alternating between Donkey Kong and Diddy Kong (aka the Didmeister), and it has done more to strengthen our video gaming co-existence than any game this side of ‘Rock Band’. Perhaps more so, given that DKCR also has a greater variety of situations than any game this side of ‘Super Mario Galaxy’; we’ve learned that I seem to have an advantage in swinging from vines, while my wife has an advantage in jumping around in mine carts and finding secret stashes of bananas. Alas, the dodgy controls that plagued DK ‘Jungle Beat’ are also evident here at times: you don’t always jump when you think you’ve jumped (or not as high), or duck when you think you’ve ducked. There is also a tendency for “spontaneous primate disappearance”, where you can’t work out where your chosen monkey is amongst the jungle backdrop and the little shits that are out to kill you. Never mind, it’s still fun enough for you to get past these frustrations and save the poor possessed beasts. Although perhaps it’s best not to tell people how much monkey business is going on in your household.

Image copyright Nintendo

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Gig Review – Public Enemy – Corner Hotel, Richmond – Dec 29

The ticket claimed that Public Enemy would be performing their famous album, ‘Fear of a Black Planet’. However, after just six tracks in PE announced they would be interspersing their set with tracks from their other famous album, ‘It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold us Back’… except two or three more tracks in that plan was jettisoned as well. Instead PE went on for almost an hour past their scheduled finishing time with a marathon mix of greatest hits, new cuts, blues covers, guest MCs, two-man banter… and the band suggested that, if it wasn’t for a council curfew, they would have gone on for even longer than that. It was somewhat of a contrast from their heyday, when Chuck D’s tight, booming lyrical flow made the group seem like a major musical and political force to be reckoned with. Indeed, it seemed like Chuck’s position as the leader of the group has been usurped by his ‘sidekick’, Flava Flav, who has kept himself in remarkable shape, both physically and vocally. And the show itself seemed to reflect Flav’s on-stage persona: loose, rambling, a little nonsensical, politically conscious but not quite on the same cerebral level as what the PE of old brought to hip-hop. Tellingly it was Flav who delivered the final message of the night about how regardless of colour we are all part of the human race, which was certainly consistent with PE’s past messages of racial tolerance, but lacking a little in terms of the anger and eloquence about racial tensions in America that fuelled PE’s best work. Of course, the social landscape in the US has changed considerably over the past couple of decades – even before Obama’s ascent – and it may not necessarily be a bad thing that the group can nowadays kick back a little and have some fun. But you kind of wish that they had a new cause to put their fists behind – whatever, it was still cool to see one of the most important acts in hip-hop history. Fight the powers that be, then…