Monday, December 31, 2012

The Top Ten Most Viewed Wooden Finger Posts (and The Best Of Everything) of 2012

And to finish the year off, these were the ten most viewed posts on this blog that were written this year:

5.       Is Andrew Bogut A Bust?

The first two posts were thousands of views ahead of the rest, and each racked up more views than the rest of the top ten combined. They probably did so for the same reason: they are high on the list when one does an image search in Google for the covers of those albums. Google searches tend to be the highest determinant of traffic for this blog, irrespective of content.
Now, some personal favourites for 2012:

Best Book: On Warne – Gideon Haigh
Best Album: Lonerism – Tame Impala
Best Song: Pyramids – Frank Ocean
Best TV Show: Mad Men
Best Film: The Dark Knight Rises
Best Comic: Saga – Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples
Best Sporting Event: Hawthorn v Sydney AFL Grand Final (though I got more satisfaction from the Melbourne Storm’s NRL Grand Final win)
Best Sportsperson: Usain Bolt
Best Website: The Basketball Jones
Best Post: The Flight Of The Pixie Point Guards – Andrew Rafner on The Basketball Jones
Best Beer:  Mountain Goat Rare Breed Before The Dawn Black IPA
Best Twitter Feed: Tim Siedell (@badbanana)

Prospero Ano Nuevo!

V7RT8Q82E8PU

Saturday, December 29, 2012

The ‘Fightback’ In Cricket And Regression Toward The Mean

The word ‘fightback’ in cricket – often used to denote an improvement in the performance of a team – always annoyed me. Possibly this may have been because growing up I was a nervous Aussie cricket supporter, and given that the Australians had the upper hand in the majority of matches they played in, the word was seemingly most often employed by commentators cheering on the efforts of the other team. But possibly there was also a sense that a ‘fightback’ was not really that big a deal, that is a sense that it would be unusual for all 11 members of a cricket team to perform poorly.

This latter point is essentially the idea behind the concept of regression toward the mean. I like this term, because it puts a cricket team’s supposed ‘fightback’ into proper perspective. Say that a team is 4/40 – a pretty bad start to any team’s innings, and you have two batsmen who have to get off the mark out in the middle. What would you expect each of them to score? If they each scored about 40 runs, and added about 80 runs to the team total, you might be inclined to say that they had done very well, and that they had led a ‘fightback’. But really, scoring about 40 runs each is what you would expect, on average, the No.5 and No.6 batsmen to score. Now it could be that the team being 4/40 indicates that batting conditions are worse than average, and that would mean a batsman who performed at their average had actually done pretty well. Nevertheless, the point is that the anchor for one’s expectations should be what a batsman has done over his career rather than how the other batsmen have performed on any particular day.

Similarly, if a team is expected to make on average about 350 runs per innings, and they make only about 100 runs in the first innings, it shouldn’t be at all surprising that they would make substantially more than 100 runs in the second innings. Again, it’s nothing more extraordinary than a team regressing towards its mean performance. And the same applies if a batting team gets off to a considerably better-than-average start: you would expect that it is more likely than not that their performance from there on in will deteriorate, and the bowling team’s performance will improve in comparison.

Of course none of the above will seem that revelatory to cricket-watchers who have completed a course in statistics. But it’s a reminder that, during the course of a single match, when one is wondering what has been the driving force behind a supposed ‘fightback’, the answer often isn’t anything more dramatic than performance simply regressing to the mean.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The Finger Points Outwards - No. 51

ECONOMICS:  A conversation with the economics professor who created the board game Anti-Monopoly, including his legal troubles with Parker Bros.
 
BASKETBALL: Researchers find the surprising truth about whether basketball coaches overreact by benching star players when they get early fouls.
SOCIAL POLICY: Rave, By Dave: a blog about Australia’s tax-transfer system.
 

Monday, December 24, 2012

The Shit Gamer’s Review: 'Batman – Arkham City'

‘Batman: Arkham City’ has to be one of the greatest video games of all time (well, one of the quotes on the front of the ‘Game of the Year Edition’ I have says as much). One can get lost in its bleak cityscape for hours on end, gliding and grappling between the rooftops, or mixing it up with the Arkham City inmates at ground level. The gameplay is a combination of role-playing game and beat-em-up, effectively combining the two main elements of Batman’s crime-fighting methodology: detective work and hand-to-hand combat. (I’m sure it’s not the first Batman game to do this, but anyway it does it very well.) Similarly, the Catwoman sequences manage to throw in most of the things you would want to be Catwoman for: burgling, whipping, bounding up walls, and wrapping your legs around enemies’ necks.


One might argue that RPG’s lose a bit of their lustre nowadays in that you can easily look up the solutions online if you want to. I admit I looked up the solutions from time to time (this one from Game Pressure proving to be the most helpful). Allow me to make the following justifications. First, the game itself provides a lot of hints, and so looking up guides online doesn’t add as much as you might first think. Second, I only used them when I had been wandering around aimlessly for some time. Third, you could argue that it is within the character of Batman to use all the resources available to him, and that Batman feels more like Batman when he knows exactly what he’s going to do next.  Finally, video games are a lonely experience, and seeing others raise the same questions you are raising helps you feel decidedly less solipsistic.

It took me essentially one obsessive week to finish the main storyline, but that is just a small part of what ‘Batman: Arkham City’ has to offer.  There are many side missions, and hidden prizes to collect, and once you finish the game you can go back through it all over again, with harder enemies. But here’s the paradox: as much as I loved ‘Batman: Arkham City’ I just wanted to get through the main story as quickly as I could. As I already said, I used cheats whenever I was wandering aimlessly for a few minutes. Indeed (SPOILERS!) when, two-thirds of the way through, Catwoman is given the chance to leave Gotham City rather than go back and save Batman, I thought ‘beauty!’ and took the exit. When (SPOILERS AGAIN!) I had slogged my way through all the bad guys and had to endure throwing that freaking Remote Batarang 450 times and had actually finished the game, and then found out there was some sort of extra mission at the end, my heart sank a little. I admit it: I have no patience. I don’t explore. I’m just driven by the need to finish. I’m sure there are areas of life where that’s an asset.   

(A final aside: yeah, yeah, she’s just a computer-generated character and it's Wolowitzesque to say it, but Talia al Ghul in ‘Arkham City’ is hot. Like, really hot. And if you do feel silly ogling a bunch of pixels, do an image search for the actress who did her voice instead.)

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Album Review: Melody’s Echo Chamber – Melody’s Echo Chamber


French singer Melody Prochet uses her supposed ‘echo chamber’ to full effect on her debut album. Typically, her tracks begin with about 0:05 or 0:10 of relative quietude and bottom-of-the-scale frequencies, before the synthesisers appear and the plus-10kHz frequencies light up with red. ‘Endless Shore’, at track number six, is the definitive MEC track in this regard, with a fairly consistent block of red-level intensity at the 10-15kHz mark, while the highest frequencies primarily remain only in blue. The pattern is more or less repeated on another stand-out track ‘Some Time Alone, Alone’, which proceeds along with a similarly shoegaze-like spectrography.
'Endless Shore':
 
'Some Time Alone, Alone':

Other tracks dial down the energy a touch: single ‘I Follow You’ has a milder, bluer, and more stable profile than the two tracks mentioned above. Seventh track ‘Quand Vas Tu Rentrer’ though stands out in contrast to a lot of the album (its lyrics are in French, for one thing). It stays mostly in the sub-5 kHz range, particularly at the start of the track which has only a few, repeated notes and the faint strands of Melody’s distorted voice. The track then builds up gradually, and only starts to move well up the scale when the drums enter in around halfway through.
'I Follow You':


‘Quand Vas Tu Rentrer’:

 
However, the greatest activity at the upper frequencies comes on two of the later tracks – ‘IsThatWhatYouSaid’ and unexpectedly, the closer ‘Be Proud Of Your Kids’. Both are essentially instrumentals: ‘IsThatWhatYouSaid’ is purely one, and its barrage of loud, spinning noises keep it nested in the double-digit kHz range.  Meanwhile, the sound of ‘Be Proud Of Your Kids’ is more intense than it may first seem given that its most memorable component is a young girl speaking shrilly in French. In reality though, that actually forms a minor part of the overall file, which combines a cluster of instruments with Melody’s largely indecipherable but sufficiently vociferous lyrics.    

‘IsThatWhatYouSaid’:

 
‘Be Proud Of Your Kids’:
 


All in all, ‘Melody’s Echo Chamber’ is a debut that doesn’t flitter around in the lower ranges, but continuously reaches for the 22kHz border. Some audiophiles might prefer that there was a bit more variance in how the tracks progress, but those who like their spectrograms splashed in red with a splatter of white will surely not be disappointed.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Graphic Novels You Would Like If You Weren’t Too Chicken To Read Them: Building Stories


Over the next few weeks, various websites will start naming their lists of best comics and graphic novels for 2012, and it’s a foregone conclusion that Chris Ware’s ‘Building Stories’ will be near or at the top of most of them. ‘Building Stories’ is probably the most acclaimed comic since ‘Watchmen’; it’s so acclaimed that even book reviewers such as Publishers Weekly have ranked it amongst the best books overall for 2012. (Indeed, you could almost say that it’s so acclaimed that those who fancy themselves to be in the ‘literary know’ might be too chicken not to read it.)
Book reviewers and hardcore book readers are to some extent book fetishists, and even those (like myself) who have acquiesced to owning an e-book reader still have a fondness for the look, feel and smell of a thick-as-a-brick hardback. They know that, in most cases, their preference is irrational; the words are no different whichever form you read them in, and the electronic versions are usually far cheaper and do not clutter up your living space. But ‘Building Stories’ gives them all something to point to as evidence that the ‘physical’ form is superior. Ware’s new novel comes in the form of 14 separate sections of different shapes and sizes, which (theoretically, at least) can be read in any order. It’s therefore a book whose reading experience is essentially impossible to replicate in electronic form, which I think explains at least part of its appeal amongst the world’s remaining readers. 

The 14 different sections of ‘Building Stories’ come packed in a grand-looking box, shown below:



On the back of the box, I’ve heard, is supposed to be a guide for the order that the various sections should be read in. (But if you can figure it out, you’re a better reader than I am.)


If you look more closely on the back of the box, you’ll see that my copy was ruined by my having to peel an over-adhesive sticker off. I’m not going to publicly denounce the store I bought it from for their sticker policy and the disregard it shows to collectors (apart from to say it’s a store that should definitely know better than that), but needless to say I was NOT HAPPY AT ALL!!!


And this is how all the sections sit when you open the box. Really, this is exactly how they sit, because I’m obsessive enough to make sure that I’ve kept the original ordering within the box (even if that’s different from the order in which I’ve read them).
 
This is my favourite part of the collection: it follows a single day in the lives of the main characters (Sep 23, 2000), and it’s made to look like a Little Golden Book. You could even write your name on the inside front cover – of course, I wouldn’t dream of doing that in a million years …
 
 

I got excited by this one for a moment – I thought it was a board game! Now that would’ve broken down some literary barriers! Alas, it’s not, it’s just a well-reinforced comic strip.

 
At the bottom of the box is this monster newspaper-sized section. I haven’t read this one yet, because like any broadsheet it’s a bit hard to read while you’re in bed unless you’re plotting to take your partner’s eye out. I’m become even more hesitant to read it now I’ve spotted the huge, creepy picture of a grimacing little girl lurking somewhere in the middle (not shown). It’s the most disturbing Ware drawing since Jordan Lint’s wife seemingly tried to swallow his head whole.
 

Monday, December 17, 2012

BEER!! [1] – BeerHere DEAD CAT




Name: DEAD CAT
Brewery: BeerHere

Place Of Origin: De Proef, Lochristi, BELGIUM
Type: (easy-going) Red Ale

Alcohol Content: 4.7%
Why I Bought It: My lovely wife told the guy at the counter it was because it has a dead cat on the label, as if this were a revelation. Of course it’s because it has a DEAD CAT on it!

The guy then asked if I knew why the beer had got that name. Apparently it’s because BeerHere can’t make their usual Fat Cat ale, due to European hop shortages. (You can also discover this by reading the story on the label.) He then gave me a free lambric beer, so all in all it was a top visit.
Taste: Fairly light for a red ale actually. Those imagining a strong, dark, dead animal taste will be disappointed.

What I did while drinking it: Watched the Aussie cricket team’s middle-order batsmen Michael Hussey and Matthew Wade flay the Sri Lankans at what used to be the Bellerive Oval in Hobart. (Also, I started my ‘Building Stories’ post for later this week.)

What I did after drinking it: Confronted the dead, dark matter in our kitchen sink.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

The Shit Shot Theory*


In a 2010 article lambasting NBA easybeats the Washington Wizards for a particularly horrendous night’s shooting, the Courtside Analyst coined the rather splendid phrase ‘the Shit Shot Percentage’. ‘The Shit Shot Percentage’ was used to denote those shots taken from just inside the three-point line at a range of 16 to 23 feet from the rim; too far away to have a high expected percentage of going in, but too close in to gain an extra point if they do. As the Courtside Analyst puts it:
“These are the absolute lowest value shots and should be avoided. Besides being stupid, they are also a sign of (a) weakness — you lack the strength to go to the hoop, or (b) laziness – you are settling for an available “bad” shot instead of working to get a good shot. Shit shots are available all night long. That’s because they don’t return very well on the investment.”     

The article then goes on to claim that NBA teams take a ‘shit shot’ 20 per cent of the time, or on one in every five possessions.  The ‘Shit Shot Theory’ has been used to explain the difference in the field goal shooting percentages of the New York Knicks’ Carmelo Anthony and the Miami Heat’s LeBron James. Using shooting statistics from the 2009-2010 season, Andres Alvarez at The Wages of Wins Journal showed that while Carmelo is a better mid-range shooter than LeBron, the latter is a much more effective scorer because a higher proportion of his shots are close to the rim.





Now I think I have a nice-looking jump shot, perfected through spending years of my childhood daydreamily shooting away at the (now-long departed) hoop in my parent’s backyard. It’s not a jump shot to make you swoon or anything, but it has the one hand to the side and the flick of the wrist and everything. And my teammates would say there are definitely spots on the court which are my spots to shoot from. I’ve marked these spots on the diagram below:

I don’t really shoot three-pointers nowadays because I have to heave the ball to even make the distance, and that makes my shot all wonky. I remember one night at basketball training when I was about 13 or 14 I was training apart from the other kids for some reason and I took shot after shot from halfcourt, and - no joke, I swear it’s true! - I was getting something like 7 out of every 10 in. There was a parent of another kid on the sidelines who I think was watching me, and after every swish I would turn around and look at him to see if he had seen it, and then trying to seem all nonchalant I would dribble back to halfcourt and drain another Hail Mary. Anyway, apparently I had more muscles in my arms at 13 than 33. I can’t make those anymore. And I don’t tend to drive to the hoop, because I have no muscles and I’m slow and uncoordinated and someone would flatten me.
With that in mind, let’s overlay the above diagram with the ‘Shit Shot Range’, shall we?



Yes, that’s right - all of my favourite spots are in the Shit Shot Range. This is why, despite my nice-looking textbook jump shot, my actual field goal percentage is quite low. If Melo and Bron can only make 40 per cent of their shots from that range, then you can imagine that I don’t make a particularly high percentage of shots from that range either. 
I don’t naturally tend to look to shoot anyway – to the point where my teammates have shouted ‘SHOOT! SHOOT!’ when I get the ball – but after working out the implications of the Shit Shot Theory for my offensive usefulness I’ve been even more reluctant to hoist up attempts. Which is a good thing, in terms of winning basketball games, as deflating as this realisation is to my self-worth. And my years spent tarting up my jump shot haven’t been a total waste – after all, there’s always H-O-R-S-E.   

*Actually, it’s not technically a theory, but calling it one makes the title of this post reminiscent of that Sheldon Cooper show.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The Finger Points Outwards - No. 50

BASKETBALL: Evidence that LA basketballer Kobe Bryant has been in effect only an average shooter from the field over his career. That is, unless you believe in ‘the Kobe Assist’.  (And I don’t.)
SOCCER: For those who like their sports and stats, check out the blog The Game Is A Foot. It’s kind of like what this blog would be like if I had been born in the suburbs of London and I was better at maths.
MUSIC: NME rank the Radiohead albums from worst to best. Turns out Nerve has does this as well. And Stereogum too. And IGN. Of course, all of them are wrong. 

CULTURE: Gawker names 22 Terrible Things That Must End in 2013. I’m still undecided as to whether to give the skinny jeans up for good next year.

Monday, December 10, 2012

A Big Sorry To Pond


First on stage were Pond, who essentially looked like MGMT if they had been de-aged by a decade. They also looked like they had come directly from a 'Time To Pretend' video shoot given their various states of undress. Listening to their set was basically a game of 'pick the late '60s psychedelic hippie tune', but they passed the time for the audience in attendance, and playing to a large crowd seemed like it was a thrill to them at least.

Wow, that’s a bit dismissive – who wrote that? Well, I did, when I wrote my review of the MGMT gig in Melbourne a couple of years back. Pond, I’m sorry. I’ve listened to your most recent album ‘Beards, Wives, and Denim’ and I think it’s good stuff. And hell, it’s not like I can play something that even resembles a late ‘60s hippie tune. However, I still stand by my comments that you look like a de-aged MGMT, and that you can’t seem to find your shirts. 

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Kallis v Sobers



Over the past few years there has been a debate whether South African cricketer Jacques Kallis is a best all-rounder/cricketer than former West Indian cricketer Sir Garry Sobers. Some have said there is no comparison: that Sobers was and remains the best cricketer since Sir Don Bradman. This post is not going to prove who’s better, but what it will argue is that the conclusion that Sobers was clearly better than Kallis is not easy to prove.
Batting

Sobers had the higher batting average …

Kallis’ batting average is 56.93, while Sobers’ was 57.78. So Sobers made on average about one run more per dismissal, though the difference may not be statistically significant.

Batting averages are higher nowadays…
One argument goes that batting averages have been inflated by shorter boundaries/batting-friendly pitches. If this is true, then the inference is that Sobers’ average would be higher if he batted today (or conversely Kallis’ average would be lower if he played in Sobers’ era).

However, one of the advantages of comparing cricketers’ on all-round ability is that in considering both batting and bowling these effects balance out. That is, Sobers’ batting ability looks better if it is easier to score runs now than in his era, but then so does Kallis’ bowling ability.
Sobers could take the game away from an opponent… 

What does this mean? A run is a run is a run; Sobers’ 57 runs per dismissal are only slightly more valuable than Kallis’ 56 runs per dismissal. One point that is clearly in Sobers’ favour is his better batting strike rate. He reportedly had a Test batting strike rate of 52.5 runs per 100 balls faced, while Kallis’ is 46.0. On the other hand, this also means Kallis stays in longer on average, and while this is a liability in One-Day Internationals and particularly Twenty20 matches if you have a below-average strike rate, it’s a valuable skill in Test matches in which 20 wickets are (generally) required to win the match.

Maybe Sobers’ more aggressive batting makes it easier for his teammates to score runs? But that’s hard to prove; you’d essentially have to see how teammates’ averages and strike rates changed when Sobers and Kallis are batting. My guess is not that much, but if anyone is willing to do the number-crunching I’d be interested in the results!

So in conclusion, Sobers might be a slightly better batsman due to his superior strike rate, but it’s pretty close. 

Bowling

Kallis has the better bowling average – 32.57 to Sobers’ 34.04, although again the difference may not be statistically significant. We’ve already covered above the effects of the relative difficulty of batting and bowling across different eras.
Kallis also gets batsmen out more quickly, dismissing a batsman on average every 69 balls, while Sobers needed 92 balls on average to get batsmen out.

But Sobers got more wickets per match …

Yeah, not a bad point. But every ball that Sobers or Kallis bowled was a ball that someone else didn’t. For each of those balls how much better was Kallis or Sobers than the alternative? That is, is the performance of Kallis and Sobers better than the ‘average’ international bowler – if not they’re actually hurting their team’s performance on average with their bowling, apart from the benefit they provide by giving the better bowlers a rest. (This is not to deny that they’re still both outstanding bowlers in a global sense to get to that level in the first place.) Kallis’ better bowling average and particularly strike rate suggests he adds a bit more value (or at the least detracts less value) for each ball he bowls. Sobers can possibly bridge the gap as long as he added some positive value over the average bowler, but I’m not sure his figures support that.

Sobers’ bowling average would be better if he didn’t have to ‘fill the gaps’ …
This point comes from this post. The argument is that the Windies would pick their team around the other bowlers, and then use Sobers to fill whatever gap was left, so if the pitch was fast, then Sobers would bowl spin, and if it was likely to turn, he bowled pace. That may be true. But whether it matters or not depends on whether you think a bowler should be assessed on what they actually produced rather than what they could have produced if circumstances had been more favourable to them.

Again it’s pretty even, but Kallis might have a slight edge in terms of bowling, due to his better strike rate.
Fielding

Well, how does one assess this? Sobers took 109 catches in 93 matches, Kallis has taken 196 in 158 matches. Not really a compelling argument that Sobers was clearly a better fielder.

To reiterate, none of this is to say that Sobers wasn’t the better cricketer – it’s just to say that it appears difficult to make a clear-cut case for it.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

The Wooden Finger Five: December 2012

1. Letter From An Occupant - The New Pornographers: Another song to file under the 'I-really-should-have-heard-this-before-I-found-the-Pitchfork-500-list'. It blasts away for three minutes and forty-six seconds, and the chorus - even though it makes little sense - is gold.



2. Best Of Friends - Palma Violets: Recently named NME's #1 song of 2012, which is not that surprising given that it sounds like it could have been written by all those Strokes and Libertines fans on the NME Editorial Committee. Actually, the Palma Violets are kind of like the evolutionary Vaccines. This is a great anthem though.

3. Nothing That Has Happened So Far Has Been Anything We Could Control - Tame Impala: That title is so long it's pretty much the only lyric I remember from the song. This is the penultimate track of Tame Impala's excellent 'Lonerism' album, and as if he knows he's running out of vinyl space Kevin Parker throws just about every effect bar the kitchen sink into it without obscuring its sunny little tune.

4. Default - Django Django: The phrase that has swirled around my head the most over the past month is not really a phrase at all: it's the distorted, hiccupy intro to this song which sounds kind of like "Ba, Click, default, fault, ba click default" though I can't find anything to confirm or deny that. Then that serrated guitar sound kicks in and you're on your way to three minutes of dance-psych-pop-indie bliss.



5. Don't Deny Your Heart - Hot Chip: I like the Chippers, but I'm just mentioning this for its awesome 'football video game' clip. I don't want to spoil the surprises, so I'll just say there's a lot of love in this one.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The Most "Efficient" Championship Winning Team In NBA History

 
A few months back, I wrote a post on the most "efficient" premiership winning team in AFL history, and suggested that I might do it for other leagues if I feel enthused. Well, this post looks at the National Basketball Association. That rating again:

Championship Efficiency Rating = (Championships Won / Number of Seasons Played) - Average Probability Of Winning Championship

The average probability of winning championship changes considerably across the franchises given the huge expansion in the NBA; the probability of winning is much less if there are 30 teams compared to if there are only 8 (which there was in the '50s).

The results are not that surprising for those who know their NBA history; the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers are streets ahead. (For brevity's sake I've cut out all the defunct franchises from the list  below, many of which only played a season or two, although of course they were included when calculating the ratings.) What is more interesting is that only six current teams out of 30 have a positive rating, and one of those just barely. If that doesn't illustrate the 'competitive imbalance' problem in the NBA then nothing does.

Boston 0.191
LA Lakers 0.187
Chicago 0.086
San Antonio 0.073
Miami 0.048
Houston 0.001
Dallas -0.006
Philadelphia -0.015
Detroit -0.016
Portland -0.017
Golden State -0.018
Milwaukee -0.020
Oklahoma City -0.021
Washington -0.032
New York -0.033
Charlotte -0.033
Memphis -0.034
Toronto -0.034
Minnesota -0.035
New Orleans -0.035
Orlando -0.035
Denver -0.038
Indiana -0.038
New Jersey -0.038
Utah -0.039
LA Clippers -0.041
Cleveland -0.041
Phoenix -0.042
Atlanta -0.046
Sacramento -0.048

Note too that Atlanta and Sacramento, despite winning one championship each, come out on bottom, since they played a lot of their histories in a relatively small league with a higher (theoretical) probability of winning.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Who Has The Easiest AFL Draw in 2013?

Once again, I've calculated the difficulty of each AFL team's draw, using the method described in last year's equivalent post. This article is on the money: the weaker clubs from 2012 tend to have the easiest draws in 2013 (and Collingwood gets savaged again).

Melbourne 111.8
Brisbane 111.4
Gold Coast 89.2
Port Adelaide 56.9
Adelaide 55.6
Sydney 42.6
Essendon 26.7
Greater Western Sydney 23.3
Geelong 15.0
Richmond 13.0
West Coast 5.5
St. Kilda 4.6
Carlton 1.7
Hawthorn 1.2
Fremantle -5.2
Western Bulldogs -40.2
Collingwood -43.2
North Melbourne -92.9

As an added bonus, here's the rating of each team's draw broken down by

1) 'teams played twice' (based on the ranking of the teams played twice naturally);
2) the net effect of 'travel' (for example, Adelaide's net effect is zero because they play 10 games at AAMI against interstate clubs, and they make 10 trips interstate); and
3) the effect of not playing your own team. (I initially completely forgot about this effect when I wrote this post, despite making a huge deal of it last year.) 

Obviously, for most teams the net effect of travel is not that far from zero, so the other two effects are the major components.






Thursday, November 29, 2012

Marvel NOW!: Reviews of Comics I Said I’d Never Buy (First Half)


About a month back, I said on this blog that I was not interested in the Marvel NOW! launch and it may actually be enough to turn me off Marvel Comics for good (particularly given I'm probably too old for them now - nodding from my wife ... ). O flip-flopping: thy name is Wheatley. (Or maybe curiosity be my name?  ... Or masochism?) To date, I’ve bought seven titles from the Marvel NOW! line, and you know what? It’s not bad. Reshuffling the creative teams, as occurred with the DC relaunch, may have just been the shot in the arm some of these titles needed, or maybe it just fits my theory that, like debut rock albums, comic book titles are at their most exciting for the first twelve issues.
Uncanny Avengers: I’ve already reviewed #1 here. #2 came out this week and it has more beautiful John Cassaday art. I still hate the fact that all of the X-Men are becoming Avengers now, but it’s making for some interesting character interaction (see Rogue and the Scarlet Witch). Verdict: Four (out of five) fingers.

Fantastic Four: It’s hard to do all that much with the FF that hasn’t been done before. I’m not sure this is it yet; the characters seem to be reacting to each other in the same old ways, but the premise of the series – Reed Richards takes the FF on a year-long trip through time and space – has the potential to deliver some Matt Fraction weirdness. Except that I’m sure Mark Bagley is the artist to go all ‘Casanova’ (Fraction’s weirdest and best series) on us; nothing against Bagley, who is perfectly suited to other series. I think I’ll drop this one. Verdict: Three fingers.



Captain America: Now this is an interesting premise; Rick Remender has shot the often said WWII hero into the sci-fi environment of Dimension Z. It’s so ‘fish out of water’ that it might be worth checking out for a few issues at least. And John Romita Jr’s cover to the first issue is the darkest depiction of the good Captain to date. Verdict: Three fingers and a stub.



Thor - God Of Thunder: Potentially the best of the lot, or at least the one that is just pretentious enough to be an Eisner Award nominee. The story follows Thor in three different time eras, with issue #2 in particular making use of his Viking roots.  Also, in a rarity, Thor is not being depicted as a part-buffoon. Jason Aaron may be the smartest scribe the god of thunder has ever had, and Esad Ribic’s art is for the ages. Verdict: Four fingers.  

All New X-Men – The five original X-Men travel from the ‘60s (although in the compressed Marvel timeline probably from 2003) to witness the awful mess that the present world has become, with man and mutant at each other’s throats more than ever (aren’t they always)? It’s OK, but I’m not sold on the premise of this one. My copy though came with a fun little backing board of the original X-Men as babies.



Indestructible Hulk: The Hulk has had remarkable longevity for a rather dull character (Peter David’s run being a notable exception), but new writer Mark Waid makes a promising start here. No more ‘woe is me’ from Bruce Banner; he’s going to use both his brains and his ‘hulking out’ to his advantage. I think I’ll see where this one goes. Verdict: Three fingers and another stub.

FF: Not the Fantastic Four, but the Freedom Foundation. This also has the potential to be an Eisner nominee, if only cos it has hip writer Matt Fraction and super-hip artist Mike Allred on it. And because, instead of the three guys/token girl line-up, it instead has a three girls/piddly Ant-Man roster.  The first issue was slow, but I reckon by issue three, the cool nerds will be all over this one. Verdict: Three fingers with a fourth in reserve.

Still to come:  Avengers, New Avengers, Secret Avengers, @*&! Avengers, and Superior Spider-Man.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

The Shit Gamer's Review: Pix 'n' Love Rush and Squareball

Sequels notwithstanding, video games rarely look to their own past, as the opportunites afforded by the pace of technological change means that each game looks to be bigger, clearer, and more novel than the last. But the rise of the smartphone has taken games back in a way, as smartphone consumers, many of them not being video game addicts, are typically unwilling to shell out six bucks for a 300 megabyte game. Two games that have taken advantage of these limitations - nay, even revel in them - are Pix 'n' Love Rush and Squareball.



Pix 'n' Love Rush has four games to choose from: Classic Rush, Cursed Rush, Rainbow Rush, and On-Off Rush. Personally, the one I find most addictive is Cursed Rush because the other Rushes require more brain co-ordination - Classic Rush has four buttons (left, right, jump, and shoot), whereas with Cursed Rush you just need to touch the screen to jump. On the other hand, the fact that the levels are called Hard, Harder, Hardcore, Hardcorer, and Hardcorest doesn't exactly appeal to the gaming novice.  Still, it's so visually appealing, with its absorption of the old arcade graphic style (the screen is not rectangular, your progress is measured to the second decimal point, there's a game of Pong being played in the background) that you don't mind frequently falling to your death. And I managed to get 100% on Hard and Harder! Which probably means they're not actually that hard, but still ...



A game that has even more simple graphics, and is more fiendishly evil in its difficulty, is SQUAREBALL. All you have to do is direct a 'squareball' around a maze, and by maze I mean an assortment of Pong-like blocks. Sound easy? Except that the freaking ball  never stops moving, and given this you often have to anticipate your next move even as you are adjusting to your last one. Never have I winced so much, as time and time again I've just negotiated my ball through a difficult patch and thought it was in the clear only for me to unwittingly direct it into open space, or into a pit of lava (and by lava I mean a red block). Squareball requires so much concentration and precision that sometimes I'm almost afraid to breathe. If it wasn't just so darn cute and ironical I would have run from its pits of despair long ago.


Saturday, November 17, 2012

The 15 Best Coldplay Songs

 
Apart from Radiohead, the other major band I saw play this week was Coldplay. In contrast to Radiohead, most of my favourite Coldplay tracks are the obvious ones - the roof-raisers, the confetti-droppers, the light-holders, the leg-lifters. Also, a chunk of them come from the greatest Coldplay album of them all, the beautiful 'A Rush Of Blood To The Head'. These are my favourite 15 tracks from Jonny Buckland's band:

1. Clocks
2. The Scientist
3. In My Place
4. Lost!
5. Viva La Vida
6. Violet Hill
7. Shiver
8. Yellow
9. Lovers In Japan
10. Paradise
11. Speed Of Sound
12. Politik
13. Every Teardrop Is A Waterfall
14. Warning Sign
15. What If

The 15 Best Radiohead Songs

 
Seeing Radiohead tonight at Rod Laver Arena I was struck by the following things:

1) Gee, they've changed a lot since I saw them on the tour after OK Computer.
2) Thom Yorke's voice is amazing. Well, duh. But on CD it sounds like part of the atmosphere, it's only when you see it live you think about how those sounds are coming from someone's throat.
3) Ed O'Brien has managed to massage his backing vocals to sound like Thom Yorke's echo.
4) Who were the young hipster girls sitting in front of us? Judging by their reactions to the songs, I think they started liking Radiohead when they could flog 'In Rainbows' off the internet for free.
5) The benefit of being an 'albums band' is that Radiohead can play whatever the hell they want and be assured that a good portion of the audience will know it. Alright, everyone knows 'Creep' and 'Paranoid Android', but no-one would really go home that disappointed if they didn't play them. They can pull out any song as the mood strikes them and know that it will be someone's favourite.

With that in mind, here are my 15 favourite Radiohead tracks:

1. Sulk
2. Jigsaw Falling Into Place
3. The Bends
4. Karma Police
5. Reckoner
6. There There
7. Let Down
8. Idioteque
9. 2 + 2 = 5
10. Fake Plastic Trees
11. Creep
12. Paranoid Android
13. The Pyramid Song
14. A Wolf At The Door
15. The National Anthem

Sunday, November 11, 2012

‘Lonerism’ and the Rise of the Aussie Isolationist Muso


Tame Impala’s latest album, ‘Lonerism’ is, as the title implies, a solitary kind of record. The band itself hails from Perth, well known to be geographically the most isolated city on the planet. Most of the album was recorded by one man, Kevin Parker. Parker has said about the album that it in part arose from the realisation that “I’m just a total outcast. I can’t really talk to anyone without feeling stupid … sometimes I just want to run home and never come out of my bedroom again.” The music backs up this feeling; most of the tracks are dreamy soundscapes that very much sound like one guy twiddling some knobs (pun not intended) in his bedroom. We’re not exactly talking Syd Barrett’s ‘The Madcap Laughs’ here, and Tame Impala’s first album, ‘Innerspeaker’, sounded like the work of a band (even if it may not have been), but it’s clear that this album doesn’t fit the Cold Chisel blueprint of Australian rock.

Which got me to thinking – a lot of Australian ‘bands’ that have found international acclaim (and  their way into my CD collection) over the past decade or so have also tended to driven by their own Kevin Parker-isolated-muso-types. The Vines’ sound was largely a reflection of Craig Nicholls’ part-schizophrenic mindset. Luke Steele of the Sleepy Jackson and Empire of the Sun is the archetype of the ‘temperamental-isolated-Antipodean-genius ‘, managing to work his way through more ‘bandmates’ than single releases.  While the circumstances that led to the departure of two-thirds of Wolfmother’s line-up were somewhat different, their departure still solidified the notion that Andrew Stockdale was the driving force behind that group. The three great hopes of Aussie indie dance, the Presets, Cut Copy, and Midnight Juggernauts, have an average of precisely 3.00 members. And the wildly lauded ‘Since I Left You’ by the Avalanches was basically the product of a few guys’ record collections. Only Jet (and possibly Wolfmother) fit the mould of your classic pub-rock band.

Head back to the ‘90s though, and there were plenty of bands that gained their popularity from making a racket live. Powderfinger, You Am I, Grinspoon, Jebediah, the Superjesus, Custard, The Cruel Sea, Spiderbait, Regurgitator, and of course Silverchair, were all bands whose music you could go to a sweaty bar and get drunk to, rather than lie on your bed and play it through your laptop speakers.  Yet few of these bands (Silverchair being the obvious exception) had that much success overseas  (some deservedly so). The recent crop of introverted musicians has been more likely to show up in NME, Pitchfork, or even non-Aussie Rolling Stone than the raucous alternative rockers of the decade before.

Part of the reason for this may be that the more recent crop of bands are better (I think they are, but then I’m a Beatles fan and social introvert).  But I think their success says something too about how the music industry has changed; in an increasingly globalised and digitalised world there are no ‘scenes’, or rather there is one global ‘scene’, and this has allowed the isolationist to flourish. Listeners, both in Australia and overseas, have many more opportunities now to discover the precocious muso twiddling away in the bedroom (sigh … there really is no good way to phrase that). In years past, bands like Empire of the Sun and Midnight Juggernauts wouldn’t have got past the bouncer at the door. In the past, your band needed to be a ‘gang’. Now you just need some friends to play the parts when you’re touring.

(By the by, I recommend ‘Lonerism’; I think it’s a step above ‘Innerspeaker’ in that the tracks on that album tended to blend too much into one another. They blend on ‘Lonerism’ as well, but each track also has its own distinct ideas to make it stand out.)  

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

The Wooden Finger Five: November 2012

This past month, I've been making my way through the Pitchfork 500, which was Pitchfork's list of the best songs from 1977 up until 2008 (when the list was released). To date I've really only got through the 1977-1979 and 1984-1986 segements of the list. There were a lot of old disco tracks, a lot of early electronic music, a lot of early hiphop, and these gems:

1. Street Hassle - Lou Reed

I feel like I should have discovered this track by the Louster earlier - it's one of his best and most definitive. It clocks in at over 11 minutes but never gets tried, as it's split into three distinct sections. Section 1 is about a woman picking up a male prostitute (very Lou Reed). Section 2 is where the woman's dead from drugs, and the dealer is telling the prostitute he has to get the woman out (ultra Lou Reed). Section 3 is about nothing in particular, but it sounds beautiful and wraps up the suite nicely. Bruce Springsteen has a very cool guest spot as well.

2. Outdoor Miner - Wire

You'll see most of my picks for this month are real downers, but this is a sweet little tune, which at least one person thinks is 'an abstract interpretation of the experiences of a kind of inchworm known as the serpentine miner'. Well, that sounds arty enough for Wire to be true. For a band that did a lot of arty stuff though, they also put out a bunch of classic pop tunes.



3. Pink Turns To Blue - Husker Du

Husker Du's 'Zen Arcade' is meant to be essentially a concept album about a boy going out in the world and finding out how shit everything is. And this song is about the most shitkicking, gut-wrenching of them all; you can pretty much guess what pink turning to blue refers to (hint: think 'Street Hassle' above), but what makes it worse is that this girl seems like she was the only good thing in this world to our narrator. The melody isn't depressing though - it's as catchy as hell.

4. Kerosene - Big Black

I vaguely remembered that Steve Albini was the producer of Nirvana's 'In Utero' but I didn't know that he had his own band called Big Black. Remember those brutal, bleeding tracks on 'In Utero' like 'Scentless Apprentice' and 'Radio Friendly Unit Shifter'? This was kind of the antecedent to them. Albini's lyrics aren't necessarily subtle, but he is clever in the way he builds his narrative, as you gradually realise just how horrifying it is.

5. Primitive Painters - Felt

This is one of those songs that feels like it was the soundtrack to every mid-'80s movie, but it wasn't actually on the soundtrack to any of them. (I know. I checked to see where it was from.) It's very much like the Cocteau Twins in that Robin Guthrie produced it, and his bandmate Elizabeth Fraser sang backing vocals, and you can't understand a single lyric. But it would still be suitably atmospheric even without those touches.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Predictions For the 2012-13 NBA Season

 
Most Valuable Player: Carmelo Anthony (New York) - yes, it sounds ludicrous, but I think the Knicks will have a much-improved season, and because Melo scores the most points (and there'll be voter fatigue for LeBron) he'll get the nod. But I still think LeBron will actually have the best season.
Rookie of the Year: Anthony Davis (New Orleans)
Defensive Player of the Year: Tyson Chandler (New York) - Chandler will get part of the rest of the credit for the Knicks' surge.
Most Improved Player: James Harden (Houston)
Coach of the Year: Mike Woodson (New York) - And Woodson will get the other part of the credit.

All-Star Teams:

Eastern Conference: Starters - Derrick Rose (Chicago), Dwyane Wade (Miami), Carmelo Anthony (New York), LeBron James (Miami), Kevin Garnett (Boston); Bench - Rajon Rondo (Boston), Deron Williams (Brooklyn), Chris Bosh (Miami), Josh Smith (Atlanta), Tyson Chandler (New York), Al Horford (Atlanta), Joakim Noah (Chicago), with an injured Rose to be replaced by Paul George (Indiana).

Western Conference: Starters - Jeremy Lin (Houston) - there's a lot of voters in China!, Kobe Bryant (LA Lakers), Kevin Durant (Oklahoma City), Blake Griffin (LA Clippers), Dwight Howard (LA Lakers); Bench - Chris Paul (LA Clippers), Tony Parker (San Antonio), James Harden (Houston), Andre Iguodala (Denver), Kevin Love (Minnesota), Anthony Davis (New Orleans), Marc Gasol (Memphis).

Eastern Conference Champion: Miami
Western Conference Champion: San Antonio

NBA Champion: Miami

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Hawkeye Joins The Big (Little) Leagues


When growing up, my favourite comic book character was Hawkeye. (This may have been an early attempt at trying to be in ‘the cool crowd’, given that the general populace did not know who Hawkeye was until last year’s ‘Avengers’ movie. Strangely enough, my classmates seemed to respond to my shoehorning Hawkeye into all my 4th-grade writing activities with puzzlement rather than seeing it a measure of my coolness.)  Nevertheless, when a new ‘Hawkeye’ series was announced a few months back, even I didn’t put it on my standing order. The archer has never shown himself able to carry off a major ongoing series, and even a bunch of cool, minimalist covers wasn’t enough to convince me that was going to change. With 20 years of collecting behind me, I have to be choosy now about which new 17cm by 26cm titles I will pick to further clog up my living space.



Which is where the Marvel iPhone app comes in – for much the same price as the physical copy (cheaper for older titles) I can clog up my gigabyte allowance instead. I downloaded Hawkeye #1 a few months back and wasn’t overly impressed. But then #’s 2 and 3 got good reviews, so I gave them a go this week and I enjoyed them a lot more. The addition to the title of Kate Bishop, who replaced Clint Barton as Hawkeye when he seemingly ‘died’ a few years back, has given the book a mentor/protégé, old guard/new guard, will they/won’t they type of feel. Writer Matt Fraction and cover and interior artist David Aja have taken the many goofy elements of Hawkeye stories past and given them a 2010’s sheen, such as making the Hawkster’s many trick arrows into highly useful and inventive weapons, and making a lame-o crook like the frickin’ Ringmaster seem less like a bloody useless prat.



But more than that, ‘Hawkeye’ may just be the perfect title for the iPhone age. It’s not big and epic, it’s personable, and Aja’s rectangular panels seem like they made with desktop wallpaper in mind. You can breeze through an issue in 20 minutes and it feels like a 2-dimensional podcast. Then again, maybe I’m just trying to console myself for not picking up the first issue off the stands, and letting it pay off my mortgage.     

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The Finger Points Outwards - No. 47: How Good Is 'The Basketball Jones'?

I mentioned this blog, which made Time's best blogs list of 2011, a couple of days ago, but now I reckon this may just be my favourite basketball site going around. Yes, even better than my perennial addictions ESPN, The Wages of Wins, and Grantland. Check out these gems from the past few weeks:

Tracking the wackiest preseason predictions for 2012-13

Jokes that we can't make now that mediocre centres are less likely to make the All-Star Game

Yao Ming playing golf

Celebrating the Pixie Point Guards

Al Jefferson has an Al Jefferson-sized bed


Sunday, October 28, 2012

Why Murakami Annoys Me


To date I’ve read two books by Haruki Murakami – ‘Norwegian Wood’ and ‘Kafka On The Shore’, and am two-thirds between ‘1Q84’.  On one hand, Murakami’s books are very readable. On the other hand, his writing annoys the shit out of me. Murakami doesn’t write the world the way it is, but how an introverted teenage boy would like it to be. Everyone is young, and everyone is beautiful (not to mention ‘mysterious’). If a male and a female meet on more than two occasions, it’s highly likely they will end up having casual sex. Murakami celebrates his characters for being anti-social and self-absorbed - the ideal existence of a Murakami character would be spending days alone naked in a cabin reading books (which I think one of them did in ‘Kafka On The Shore’). And Murakami wants so badly to be European or American, you wonder how he could ever have stood living in Japan at some points. Still, as I said, he’s very readable, and the covers to his books are pretty cool, so I guess his writing can’t be all bad can it?  

The Finger Points Outwards - No. 46: Time's Best Blogs of 2011

OK, I'm a year too late, but I quite liked these blogs amongst Time's best blogs of 2011:

Kill Screen (excellent videogames blog)

Catalog Living (witty captions to homewares photos)

The Basketball Jones (basketball of course)

Pushing Ahead of the Dame (an analysis of almost every David Bowie tune)

Saturday, October 20, 2012

The Finger Points Outwards - No. 45

I'm currently reading Poor Economics, which brings together the body of poverty research to explain what seems to work in solving poverty and what doesn't. For those who don't want to read the whole book, this website offers an excellent summary, along with relevant data and research.

The top 100 unintentionally dirty comic book panels. Plenty of Batman and Archie.



Political Kombat 2012:

Romney vs Cain & Santorum
Romney vs Gingrich & Paul
Obama vs Trump

If cereal characters were real...