Monday, March 28, 2016

AFL Power Rankings: Round 1 2016

Welcome back to The Wooden Finger’s AFL Power Rankings, for 2016. These rankings have been a proud and (relatively) popular part of this blog since 2011.
How do they work? Basically, each club accumulates ranking points from a match like so:
·       first, take the club’s net margin for the match – e.g. a six-goal win is +36;
·       second, adjust the net margin for home ground advantage – e.g. Perth clubs are considered to have a two-goal disadvantage when playing in Melbourne, so a six-goal win in Melbourne for a Perth club is adjusted to +48; and
·       third, weight the match according to how recent it is, with the most recent match having the highest weight.  
One can then interpret a club’s ranking points as its expected net margin in a match if playing a club of average ability on a neutral ground. For example, according to the rankings Hawthorn would be expected to beat a Victorian club of average ability by about six goals.
So here we stand at the start of another AFL season, and many people are giving their predictions for the premier and the final eight. Based on the rankings, my best prediction for the premier is easy: it is Hawthorn to win a fourth straight flag. But that only means Hawthorn is the most likely club to win, not that it is likely Hawthorn will win. With any backward-looking ranking system generally the premier of last season is a good chance to be the system’s favourite for this season.
Predictions for the final eight are less clear, although again a backward-looking system will pick many of the finalists from last season. Hawthorn, West Coast, Sydney, and Richmond are all rated as likely finalists. With other contenders the ease of their fixture plays more of a part. Port Adelaide and Geelong, both decent clubs but non-finalists in 2015, have relatively favourable draws, while North Melbourne and Adelaide have relatively tough ones. Western Bulldogs and Fremantle are somewhere in the middle.
And then there is the move of Patrick Dangerfield to consider. No individual player is likely to affect a club’s results too much – see Geelong post-Gary Ablett and Hawthorn post-Lance Franklin – but the best are probably worth a few points per game over a replacement player. [Note: I drafted this before Dangerfield picked up 40-odd possessions against the Hawks.] Dangerfield moved from Adelaide to Geelong after last season, and the Cats added a few other handy players as well.
Put all that together and this is my predicted final eight: Hawthorn, West Coast, Sydney, Richmond, Port Adelaide, Western Bulldogs, North Melbourne, and Geelong. Yes, that does not include Fremantle, who were last season’s minor premier, but who tailed off considerably in the second half of the year. [Note: I drafted this before Freo got belted by the Dogs.] But there is a good chance that a club, or two, will improve significantly to knock out some of the aforementioned teams – I just can’t predict who.
Many scramble to alter their pre-season predictions after the first round, but not here: at Power Rankings HQ we (by which I mean I) do not weight the evidence of one match more than the previous twenty or so. A poor Richmond performance against Carlton drops them down a bit, but I’m sticking with them for the finals. A great Geelong performance against Hawthorn lifts them up a bit, but I’m not declaring them the premiership favourite yet. Steady but adaptive adjustment of expectations is the way of thinking here. I am changing my prediction to Essendon for the wooden spoon though.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

The Finger Points Outwards - No. 121

BASKETBALL: NBA players JJ Redick and Kyle Korver talk about their beautiful jump shots. [The Vertical Podcast]
MUSIC: 25 songs that tell us where music is going. [The New York Times]
WOMEN: Caitlin Moran on 12 things about being a woman that women won’t tell you. [Esquire]
BOARD GAMES: Computers overtook humans at chess some years back, but it seemed like Go may be safe. Not anymore. [The New Yorker]
FOOTBALL/HUMOUR: Referee determinedly stands his ground after taking vicious kick from player. [Dirty Tackle]

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Rugby League Analytics: A Possible Path Forward

Rugby league is a sport that does not seem to lend itself much to analysis, let alone analytics. But that is part of what has got me to thinking about it. Myth-making looms large in league: which of those myths would analytics confirm of dispel?
A search for ‘rugby league analytics’ does not exactly reveal a lot of findings to draw from. So what may such a thing look like? These are some of my thoughts, based on what I see as the logic of how the game works.
It seems reasonably obvious that a team stands a greater chance of scoring the more metres it gains. And a quick look at the metres gained for each National Rugby League team in 2015 suggests a strong positive relationship between metres gained and winning. Hence it seems that one could start to work out a player’s value by how many metres they gain, lose, or stop.
The importance of metres gained is why I lean towards the ‘spine’ being more important than the ‘pack’. The ‘spine’ seems to be the major influence of what I see as the most useful thing a team can do during its set of six tackles apart from score: get another six tackles. In particular a well-placed kick on the fifth tackle gives a team another six chances with which to gain metres or score, or better yet yield a try in itself.
Conversely giving away penalties seems to me particularly harmful, as it gives the opposition another set of six tackles and from further down the field. Although from looking over the team statistics for errors perhaps these more or less even out over time, unless one of your players is a particular hothead.
In terms of the ‘pack’ stopping the other team gaining metres seems to be their main contribution. I thought this may be hard to pick up in the statistics, since it is hard to tell the counterfactual of how many metres the opposition would have run if a team had not stopped them. I also thought tackles may not be much use in terms of picking winners, as it seems not to be in Australian Rules, as it may be more indicative of a team that tends not to have the ball. But again looking at the NRL team statistics from 2015, the more successful teams do look like they tended to have more tackles. They also look to have lower missed-tackle-to-tackle ratios.
I think then that a possible way to value league players is in terms of their net metres – that is, adding together their metres run or stopped, less their metres lost or given away. Obviously league is still a team game, and it may be hard sometimes to ascribe a particular play to a particular player. But even these simple steps may reveal a bit about the ‘true’ value of players.
Of course if anyone has done anything like this already, let me know …

Monday, March 14, 2016

The Wooden Finger Five – March 2016

Someone has put Darth Vader’s Imperial March in a major key and it no longer sounds foreboding and evil but foreboding and triumphant! A little transposition when Vader made his entrance and those Star Wars films may have been totally different.

4.untitled unmastered – Kendrick Lamar
i can’t think of one particular track off kendrick’s new album to spotlight here. that’s what happens if you don’t title your tracks people don’t remember which is which. in fact trying to think back over it i can’t recall much about the album at all. i remember in the middle of a track near the end of the album kendrick sounds like he’s in his basement with some other guy or guys and someone is strumming listlessly on a guitar and kendrick talks about doing a 15 minute jam. i remember ‘pimp pimp hooray!’ because that reminds me of the title of his last album. is it that titles help a lot with remembering music by giving you something to associate the music with? do they signpost what an album was about? i do like this album i just can’t remember much about it
‘I get a little bit Genghis Khan / I don’t want you to get it on with nobody else but me’ It’s a great line, but isn’t it a tad over the top? Genghis Khan massacred whole populations after all; the singer may be jealous, but is he really thinking of committing mass murder? Maybe a little bit Othello instead? ‘I get a little bit Othello / I don’t want you to get it on with another fellow’. Now that is a better metaphor, don’t you think?

The website Kill Screen alerted me to this beauty. PUP have put together a bunch of snippets from old video games but have replaced the original text with lyrics from their song. So you get scenes like Super Mario saying ‘I DON’T GIVE A SHIT’, and the Dark Queen from Battletoads ruing that ‘3 BEERS AND I’M SO MESSED UP’. It would be mainly a novelty if the tune wasn’t so damn catchy. That ‘WOOOOOOOO-OOOOO-OOOO’ in the chorus is fantastic, and the ‘she says that I need to grow up’ at the end just tops it off. This is a perfect track for people in their 30s who remember what it was like when they were 11 – perhaps because they still act like it.

Lucius have finally achieved Brooklyn goodness on their new album ‘Good Grief’. There are many strong tracks, but opening track ‘Madness’ feels like the one that kicked off this new and better era of Lucius for me as it was also the first tune I heard from the new album. In keeping with its title ‘Madness’ is a slightly twisted song where the lyrics make the narrator sound a little not herself: ‘You were standing there with a gun up to my head,’ says the first verse, ‘I cannot lie, there is a tingling down my spine …’ The madness theme is continued later on the album with ‘Going Insane’, in which both singers repeat those words over and over again, trying their best to sound like they are going off the deep end. On ‘Madness’ though the crazies are kept at bay, and it has beautiful orchestration, which brings the piece to a satisfying and theatrical conclusion.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

The Finger Points Outwards - No. 120

POLITICS: The abuse of power by former Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott and his chief of staff Peta Credlin, by TV presenter Barry Cassidy. [The Drum]
POLITICS: The Economist is unusually strident in its opposition to the presidential candidacy of Donald Trump. [The Economist]
FILM: Why is it a problem to remake films like Ghostbusters? [Comic Book Resources]
VIDEO GAMES: Also on the topic of looking at the past through rose-coloured glasses – 12 things today’s gamers don’t remember about old games. [The Guardian]
COMIC BOOKS: A guide to the process of colouring comics. [Women Write About Comics]

Sunday, March 6, 2016

The Leaden Finger Gamer’s Review – Lego Marvel’s Avengers

Lego Marvel’s Avengers’ is the second video game to feature Marvel Comics’ superheroes as Lego figures. I liked playing it overall, but it had its frustrations. For some of its puzzles, that need to be solved to progress, it wasn’t particularly clear what to do. I looked up how to open a gate on the first level. I looked up how to beat Loki on the second level. I definitely had to look up how the hell I got out of Manhattan. I never figured out what exactly the floating ‘A’ logos were for, or how to use them. And then there were a couple of times when I got stuck in exactly the wrong spot and repeatedly died until I must have tilted my controller just enough to escape the endless death loop.
The story that I played was mainly a condensed version of Marvel’s first Avengers movie, but spliced with other scenes. The first scene replays the Avengers’ assault on the HYDRA Fortress from ‘Avengers: Age of Ultron’. A few levels in, after Captain America meets Nick Fury, there is a solo Cap and Bucky level which is a flashback to the World War II scenes of ‘Captain America: The First Avenger’. Then we see the various heroes join up, but wait … I thought they’d already met? And after the first movie’s scenes had ended the game credits rolled, even though there looks to be several more scenes from the second movie – but that’s where I left it.
As a long-time Avengers fan I hoped that the game may actually draw upon my much-loved Avengers comic universe, and we would see lots of these Avengers, and Kang the Conqueror, and that type of stuff. The game though is set firmly in Marvel’s Cinematic Universe. Lego’s first Marvel super heroes game – ‘Lego Marvel Super Heroes’ – turns out to have been more the game for the comic book fans.  
While the cut scenes are basically straight replays of Marvel’s movies there are a few funny touches that the game puts on them. The best is the first meeting between the Black Widow and Bruce Banner/the Hulk, in which the Widow assures Banner that she is alone, despite far more evidence than the movie to the contrary. Loki is also far less subtle than in the movie about his intentions for the Hulk when he is brought on to the S.H.I.E.L.D. Helicarrier. And there are the omnipresent shakes.
In summary: ‘Lego Marvel Super Heroes’ is better, but it would take a fair bit to go wrong for me not to like an Avengers video game.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Expanding A Universe or Ruining It?: DKIII The Master Race

Sometimes a sequel is blah. Worse is when it destroys the world that spawned it, so that the only way you can enjoy its predecessors as much as you previously did is to pretend that the sequel never happened. ‘X-Men: The Last Stand’ was like that for me. So was ‘Go Set A Watchman’. ‘The Godfather Part III’ veered towards it, but stayed just on the side of only leaving itself diminished.
For the first ten pages of DKIII The Master Race #3 I was worried this was going to happen to Frank Miller’s laudable ‘Dark Knight’ series. (For some people this already happened when Miller released ‘DK2’.) At the start of this issue we see Miller’s world in ruins as the Kryptonians of Superman’s shrunken, bottled city of Kandor, having been restored to normal size, wreak havoc on several of Earth’s major cities. It is a fair escalation from the threat level of the original series, in which we had a future Gotham plagued by street gangs and lone madmen.
Now in Miller’s original ‘Dark Knight’ series we had the havoc – including a disabled plane crashing into a crowded street – caused by an electromagnetic pulse, but that series worked up to that level of disaster, and within the logic of that series it was regarded as a ‘big thing’. DK2, whatever its faults, also had that sense of perspective. But in DKIII whole cities and populations are decimated within the space of a few panels. For the Dark Knight version of Batman this feels wrong, as if the danger that was masterfully built up in the first series has been diminished.
Hence I was leaning towards disregarding this story altogether and pretending it just was not a part of ‘Dark Knight’ canon. The change in creators also adds to this sense of it not really being in line with its predecessors. Frank Miller has co-written DKIII with Brian Azzarello, and unlike the first two series he handles none of the art, which is done here by Andy Kubert, though Klaus Janson from the original series returns on inks.
There are some nods to the storytelling techniques used in the first series, but they are somewhat tokenistic, and the effect is quite different. The clustered TV panels which were a hallmark of the first series are around, but they do not add a lot to the story, whereas they had a vital part in the first series in showing how the Batman was viewed. Similarly there are splash pages, but they are used in a fairly standard way – i.e. to try and generate shock and awe. In contrast, Miller interspersed them in unusual, often unexpected ways in the first series; for example when he suddenly interrupted Batman and Robin mid-dialogue just to have a whole page of them leaping across the rooftops.
But just when I was about to dismiss DKIII#3 it kind of comes together. Batman awakens Superman to help him deal with the Kryptonians, which is a nice reversal from their famous rivalry in the first Dark Knight series. Then an important character from the second series returns and turns on our heroes, which sets up what looks like an interesting confrontation for what I assume is the final issue, and also a relatively natural one given the Dark Knight series to date.
So there is hope yet. But I am not exactly hanging out for a DKIV or DK4 or whatever it would be. The first was untouchable, the second was imaginative, and the third all in all is fine enough. However each subsequent instalment takes us a further little away from that moving final image of Bruce Wayne and his crew making a new life in the caves.