Sunday, June 26, 2016

AFL Power Rankings: Round 14 2016

Looks like there’s yet another AFL Power Rankings out there … As of a few weeks ago searching for the ESPN website in Australia now (somewhat annoyingly) takes you by default to the Australian/New Zealand version of their site. This week I clicked around the AFL portion of that site, and found the headline ‘AFL Power Rankings – Crows retain top spot’.
While a new AFL Power Rankings discovery would generally catch my interest in any case, what particularly caught it here was that the Crows were in top spot … just like in my rankings. Given that Adelaide is currently in sixth spot on the AFL ladder this seems by no means an obvious choice. Indeed if I did not do my rankings each week I doubt that I would be thinking of the Crows as the best team in the comp at the moment, as I probably would not have taken much account of their tough draw up to this point.
In fact the ESPN AFL Power Rankings (compiled by Matt Walsh) in general are not that far from mine in terms of how it currently ranks each of the AFL clubs. When I saw this I wondered if it was formula-based like mine. It is, but not really in the same way as mine is. In the ESPN rankings clubs are rated according to six factors – form, draw, fitness, X-factor, attack, and defence – and the ratings are added up to arrive at a club’s final score. There isn’t really much more detail than that, but I would assume that the scores are largely judgment-based.
It’s remarkable to me then that it’s resulted in an ordering that is fairly close to those of the more purely data-driven rankings, given that there are some pretty sizable disparities between those and the ladder positions at the moment (e.g. Adelaide, North Melbourne). Maybe there are actually some secret formulas lurking in the background?
On the other hand perhaps it isn’t that unusual to be currently thinking of Adelaide as the top-ranked team. According to the Mid-Season Consensus AFL Power Rankings over on Reddit, that is the most common position for the Crows of the ranking systems included in that thread.
Anyway, ESPN apparently have an AFL Power Rankings now. Which I guess is a nice type of symmetry for my rankings, given that they were inspired by ESPN columnist John Hollinger’s NBA Power Rankings in the first place.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

The Wooden Finger Five – June 2016

James Blake tends to repeat phrases several times.
James Blake tends to repeat phrases several times.
James Blake tends to repeat
He tends to repeat
Oh yes he repeats his phrases several times.
Now this is more like it. After two decades without new music, the return track for the Stone Roses ‘All For One’ was a bit of a disappointment; a friend of mine described it as a Britpop trying to sound like the Stone Roses. ‘Beautiful Thing’ is not as great as their greatest classics, but it’s closer to what I was hoping for when I heard the band was writing new songs. Basically it’s a better version of Ian Brown’s solo stuff. My hopes for the new album are up again.
3.A Moon-Shaped Pool: album – Radiohead
It took a while before I could hear this album – it’s pretty good, with a few really good tracks on it. It’s similar in style and quality to their last album – ‘The King of Limbs’ – but probably a little better. It’s a bit of a shame though, that after it looked like on ‘In Rainbows’ they were going to blend together their ‘early’ sound and ‘later’ sound that they have retreated back into Thom Yorke moody electronica again. Indeed at this point the rock sound of ‘The Bends’, ‘Pablo Honey, and even ‘OK Computer’ is now the exception in Radiohead’s career; ‘Kid A’ has proved to be much more the blueprint. Still a new Radiohead album is better than most of the music out there, and tracks like ‘Burn The Witch’, ‘Identikit’, and ‘The Numbers’ are up there with the better tracks in their catalogue.
Just when I thought the Strokes were basically done as a band they have returned with an EP ‘Future Present Past’ which I think is their most consistent work in over a decade. Although perhaps it is their most consistent because it is only three tracks (and one remix) long; I’ve found the Strokes’ past few albums have tended to contain about three good tracks each. Nevertheless it’s the first time in a long while I’ve listened through a whole Strokes release and not at some point wishing I was listening to one of their first two albums instead.
‘What side are you standing on?’ wails Julian Casablancas repeatedly throughout the chorus of ‘Oblivius’, which is a typically pointed Strokes lyric, but one which seems to have a bit more weariness about it. After the second chorus we hear a tinny guitar solo that recalls the one from Daft Punk’s ‘Digital Love’, which I once saw described as Elmo jamming with Van Halen. The remix by drummer Fab Moretti at the end of the EP is just as good as the original, and amazingly for me for a remix doesn’t feel at all redundant.
‘If you’re just really into rock music,’ said Sara Quin, ‘or pissed off that I’m not wearing a hoodie and have a symmetrical haircut, then I’m sorry but that version doesn’t exist anymore.’ But it’s hard to imagine too many fans that at least like a bit of pop music hating the twins’ latest album.
‘Boyfriend’, even in 2016, is a little bit different to your usual pop song though. ‘You treat me like your boyfriend’, says the singer to her wannabe girlfriend, ‘And trust me like a very best friend … But I don’t want to be your secret anymore’. As the NME album review noted, it’s a bit of a riposte to the cherry chapstick-tasting narrator of ‘I Kissed a Girl’. But its tune will appeal to all types of persuasions.
There are heaps of other great tracks on their new album ‘Love You To Death’ as well. I almost bumped ‘Boyfriend’ as my choice for the pulsating ‘U-Turn’. ‘100X’ is another semi-classic. I’ve never really listened that much to their back catalogue so I’m less likely to be ‘pissed off’ by their new direction as some long-time fans may be. With no clear alternative coming to mind this could be the current frontrunner for my favourite album of the year.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

AFL Power Rankings: Round 13 2016

This is first of three weeks the AFL where one-third the clubs have bye. So to replicate feeling that football supporters during these weeks I removed every third word this paragraph. The paragraph silly? Does feel incomplete? That pretty much we are to feel the next weeks.
I initially thought this week that I had fully accounted for the byes in my Excel sheet when I did my assessment of each club’s draw for this season. I groaned when I realised that I hadn’t. This means that instead of copying the formulas for all sixteen clubs, pasting them one cell to the left, updating the far right column for the most recent round, and then patting myself on the back for how quick it all is, I had to repeat this process four times at each part of my spreadsheet. I give a slight cheer when the AFL schedules byes for clubs that are next to each other in alphabetical order; for example, Carlton and Collingwood this week, and Richmond and St. Kilda. The ten minutes extra it takes me to update the sheet when some clubs are not playing is part of why I only update the rankings once during the finals.
And then, as thousands of other football followers will know about, there is the havoc that the bye rounds have on my fantasy AFL side. One season, when I was going really well, I spent several hours building a spreadsheet carefully planning my strategy over the bye rounds. Now I basically say bugger it, it’s all too hard, and do the same types of trades I would do any other week. Thankfully in SuperCoach now only your best eighteen players count towards your score, which takes some of the worry away.
Anyway I don’t like the bye weeks. Although it does give me an excuse not to watch Richmond play for at least one week.
Geelong is the big mover in the rankings this week, rising from sixth to third with their big win over fellow top eight-side the Western Bulldogs. And Essendon is off the bottom of the rankings after a reasonable performance against GWS, with the last spot now going to the Brisbane Lions.

Monday, June 13, 2016

AFL Power Rankings: Round 12 2016

Further attention was given over the past couple of weeks to the proposed ’17-5’ model for the AFL fixture. Under this model, after 17 rounds the clubs would split into three groups. The top six clubs would play off for a double chance in the finals, the next six clubs would play for the last two spots in the finals, and the bottom six clubs would play off to win the top draft picks. The aims of the new system appear to be to have more meaningful matches towards the end of the season, and to alleviate ‘tanking’ – i.e. clubs more or less deliberately losing matches to get a lower ladder position and higher draft picks.
I don’t like the idea of radically changing the fixture to stop ‘tanking’. Actually Cameron Rose over at ‘The Roar’ pretty much summed up how I feel about it. In Australian Rules no one player can make a huge difference to a club – no, not even Patrick Dangerfield – and hence there is not really that much difference between getting the #1 draft pick, as opposed to the #2, #3, or #4 draft pick. In a league like the NBA, where one player can make a massive difference, there is a much higher incentive to ‘tank’. But I don’t think in the AFL that ‘tanking’ is enough of a problem – or shouldn’t be if clubs are aware of the ‘true’ value of what they are losing for – to warrant overhauling the fixture.
The argument that a ’17-5’ fixture would create more meaningful matches has more merit. This argument seemed relevant to me this week as there were four matches I was interested in because they contained two good clubs and finals hopefuls – Power/Dogs, Cats/Roos, Eagles/Crows, and Giants/Swans. Indeed for the rest of the season these are probably the only clubs, along with the Hawks, that I will bother paying attention to – apart from Richmond as I support them, and whichever club they are playing. So if there were more matches between these clubs I would almost certainly pay attention to more AFL matches.
Still, I haven’t come around to the ’17-5’ model yet. Like many footy fans I’m attached to the ‘home-and-away’ fixture, and having a final ‘home-and-away’ ladder.
The most notable thing about the rankings this week is that the Greater Western Sydney Giants, with their win over cross-town ‘rivals’ Sydney, have moved into second spot. For a lot of their history I have described the Giants’ performances as being something like ‘diabolically bad’, or at best just bad. Well, no more. Not only do they have the league’s second-best theme song, the Giants are now ‘very good’. The Giants are a premiership contender. I still can’t quite get my head around it either.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

LeBron James and the Eastern Conference: How Many Years Has He Been the Conference’s Best Player?

Cleveland Cavaliers’ superstar LeBron James is currently in the NBA Finals for the sixth straight season, with his team having won the Eastern Conference the past six times. While the championship is the ultimate prize in the NBA, winning an NBA conference is itself not an insignificant feat, given that there are 15 teams in each conference. If the NBA as a whole now was the same size as it was in the 1960s then James may well have got a whole handful of rings, or more, by now.
Thinking about James’ dominance in this way made me wonder about how many Most Valuable Player awards he would have won if a separate MVP was handed out for each conference each season. This is essentially what happens in Major League Baseball, with an MVP awarded for both Leagues, where the baseball Leagues are about the same size as the NBA conferences.
To work out how many hypothetical Conference MVPs LeBron James would have won I assumed that the player in each conference who got the most votes in the MVP voting each season would have won the Conference MVP. Perhaps, given the part that narrative seems to play in MVP voting the voting would turn out somewhat differently if there were two separate Conference MVPs to vote for, but otherwise I think it is a reasonable assumption.
Under that assumption, LeBron James would have won nine Eastern Conference MVPs by now, including the past five. Below is the player who led the MVP voting in each conference in each season since the NBA-ABA merger.
LeBron’s dominance in leading his conference in MVP voting however is not unprecedented. Magic Johnson had the most MVP votes of any Western Conference player for an amazing nine straight seasons, from 1982-83 to 1990-91. Michael Jordan would also get nine Conference MVPs; three ‘three-peats’ of MVPs in fact.
Given the emphasis in the NBA on MVP awards in assessing players – which admittedly may be diluted if two such awards were handed out each season – it is interesting to consider how differently some players may have been viewed if Conference MVPs were awarded instead. Consider the following points:
*Magic Johnson would have nine MVPs and Larry Bird would have just four, instead of them having the same number (three each). Bird of course was in the same conference as Jordan, reducing his chances of winning.
*Kevin Durant would have been a four-time MVP by the age of 25.
*Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal would have received three MVPs each, instead of just one.
*Shaquille O’Neal would have three MVPs with three different teams.
*O’Neal, Charles Barkley, Kevin Garnett, and Moses Malone would be the players to have won MVPs in both conferences.
*Scottie Pippen would have an MVP, making it back-to-back wins by different Bulls players following Jordan’s win in ‘93.
*Alonzo Mourning would have two MVPs, one more than Hakeem Olajuwon.
*Tracy McGrady would have an MVP. And so would Jermaine O’Neal. Jason Kidd, George Gervin, and Pete Maravich would each have one too.
*Clyde Drexler would be the only extra MVP from the Western Conference; that is, all of the other Western Conference MVPs already have an MVP award.
*Isiah Thomas, Chris Paul, Patrick Ewing, Dwyane Wade, and Russell Westbrook would all still be MVP-less.
Magic and Durant are the big winners for me from this exercise. Nine times Magic was considered the best player in the Western Conference, even with the legendary Kareem Abdul-Jabbar on the same team. Based on that, maybe the difference between him and Michael Jordan in terms of the NBA’s best-ever guard was closer than I thought.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

AFL Power Rankings: Round 11 2016

Over the first half of 2016 the club that has lost the most ranking points is Richmond. Much to my frustration as a Tigers supporter they have started the past few seasons slowly, and have then had to make up ground over the second half of the season to earn a finals spot. The table below shows the number of ranking points that Richmond has received in the first half and second half of the season over the past few years, along with how that compares to other clubs.

In the past two seasons in particular Richmond has been a lot better in the second half of the season, including during its memorable surge into the finals in 2014. Does that give some hope to Tigers supporters for the rest of 2016?
Perhaps, but on the other hand perhaps not much. Richmond is starting from further back than previous seasons, as it has not started a season this badly, in terms of ranking points, in six years (it started worse in 2014 in terms of wins). And an improvement similar to that over the past two seasons, of about two goals a match, will only take the Tigers back to being an average club, and they need to be somewhat better than average to make the finals from here. And then there is the possibility that they will not improve at all (or get worse).
Another frustrating part to me of the Tigers starting slowly is that it brings out all the ‘crisis’ talk early in the season. If you want to get good press, on average, over the course of a season, better to start off well and then fade away than the reverse.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Spoiling The Past: ‘DC Universe: Rebirth’ and ‘Captain America: Steve Rogers’

Two comic books grabbed a fair amount of attention last week: DC Comics’ ‘DC Universe: Rebirth #1’ and Marvel Comics’ ‘Captain America: Steve Rogers’ #1. Both had controversial endings that were seen by some as intriguing plot developments, and others as disrespectful to some of comics’ most revered creators. I basically fall into the second group. My reasons for being bothered by these comic books are as follows.
In ‘DC Universe: Rebirth’ #1 the characters from ‘Watchmen’, the classic 1980s comic book series by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, are introduced into DC continuity. I had half a suspicion that ‘Watchmen’ was being referenced on the first page, due to both the use of that series’ characteristic nine-panel grid layout, and pictures of the insides of a watch, an image closely associated with ‘Watchmen’ character Dr. Manhattan. But it became clear to me only near the end of the issue when the caption ‘… we’re being watched’ appears above Batman finding the trademark pin of another major ‘Watchmen’ character, the Comedian, on the wall of the Batcave.
The issue’s epilogue erases any remaining doubts, as we get further, more obvious references to Dr. Manhattan: pictures of Mars – his home for a lot of the ‘Watchmen’ story – and an excerpt of his dialogue from that series’ final issue. The implication seems to be that the Doctor has been responsible for the recent, damaging changes in the DC Universe, taking ten years from some characters, and erasing other characters entirely.
As a reveal taken in and of itself it is quite clever. Few would have expected a character from a series that has heretofore been totally outside of DC continuity to be revealed as the main threat to DC’s heroes. But the use of the ‘Watchmen’ characters is unsettling to me for several reasons.
The first is that ‘DC Universe: Rebirth’ #1 seems to be a criticism of DC’s direction since the famous and somewhat disliked ‘New 52’ relaunch. It seems to imply that the DC Universe lost some important things that made it work when it compressed its timeline following the ‘New 52’, in particular removing or sidelining some of its popular ‘legacy’ heroes, that is, characters that had taken up the mantle of other heroes. ‘… There’s something wrong with history. Someone has infected it …’ says one of the most popular of those ‘legacy’ characters, Wally West a.k.a. the third Flash, who returns in this issue. By revealing this ‘someone’ to be Dr. Manhattan, ‘Rebirth’ writer and DC Chief Creative Officer Geoff Johns seems to be implying that what went wrong with the DC relaunch was trying to imitate the ‘grim ‘n’ gritty’ atmosphere of the ‘Watchmen’ series. At worse this could be seen as blaming Moore and Gibbons for a failed creative direction at DC they had nothing to do with. On the other hand Johns may not be blaming them at all, just the creators who tried to imitate them.
But the more troubling aspect for me is that Alan Moore has made it abundantly clear that he did not want DC to use the ‘Watchmen’ characters again. Now it may be argued that since DC already went against Moore’s wishes with their ‘Before Watchmen’ line of comics a few years back that the horse has already bolted on that one. Nevertheless I think they used the characters more respectfully in those series compared to ‘Rebirth’. Those series were further exploring the characters, by creators who admired and respected them. In ‘Rebirth’ they are being primarily used as a plot device. Dave Gibbons initially seemed to wish the ‘Before Watchmen’ series success, although later comments suggested he was dismissive of the project. But Gibbons’ comments at least point to another somewhat redeeming aspect of ‘Before Watchmen’: like the original series itself it was self-contained, and you could completely ignore it if you so wished. It is a bit harder to ignore the re-use of the ‘Watchmen’ characters when they are thrown smack bang into the middle of DC continuity.
Bringing in these characters is clearly going against Alan Moore’s wishes. Every decision-maker at DC Comics must have known this would piss him off. And sure, Moore doesn’t own the characters, and he would have known there was a risk that DC could do things following his story that he didn’t like, just like has happened to many other creators that have done work for either DC or Marvel.  But first, all those past wrongs do not make this right. And second, Moore has made his opinion so well-known that it is clearly disrespectful to him and his work to use the characters in this way. A shame, because the rest of the issue was OK.
In ‘Captain America: Steve Rogers’ #1 one of Marvel’s greatest heroes and ‘boy scouts’ was seemingly revealed as a long-time member of the evil HYDRA organisation. Many fans are not pleased about this at all, particularly since HYDRA has been closely associated with Nazis, and Captain America’s creators Jack Kirby and Joe Simon were both Jewish.

This news was initially tough for me to take. This is not just a ‘shock’ development to the character: it seems to go against the very reason the character was created. Cap was created specifically to fight Adolf Hitler and the Nazis, not to be a double agent for them.
In comics though many of these types of developments don’t last, and having read the issue now I suspect even more that it is a red herring. Even if not reversed in the current storyline there is a good chance that another writer will reverse it down the track. So perhaps in the end it will be relatively harmless, any injury to the intentions of Kirby and Simon notwithstanding. That makes it less bothersome to me than what DC Rebirth has done, although I actually found the latter the much better story overall. And maybe the DC Rebirth reveal is a red herring as well. But given DC Comics’ recent track record I don’t hold much hope for that.