Sunday, August 21, 2016

AFL Power Rankings: Round 22 2016

Next round’s post will come after the week off, and will mostly just be a ‘copy-and-drop’. Therefore I am going to bring my usual end-of-season summary forward a week. First, here are the rankings after Round 22.

Second, here are two illustrations of the course of the rankings over the 2016 season. The graph shows the progress of each club from week to week. The table shows each club’s highest, lowest, median, and average ranking in 2016, as well as the variation in its ranking over the season.

Main observations:

·       Compared to past seasons there was a lot of movement at the top. Six clubs held the number one ranking at some point in 2016 – Adelaide, Geelong, GWS, Hawthorn, Sydney, and West Coast. That aside Adelaide was the best team of 2016 according to the rankings, as it held that number one position for clearly the most number of weeks (11), followed by Hawthorn (4), Sydney (3), West Coast (2), and Geelong and GWS (1).

·       The bottom spot was largely held by two clubs – Essendon and Brisbane. Essendon held the bottom spot for 9 weeks, and Brisbane for 8 weeks, with Carlton (3) and Gold Coast (2) the other clubs to be ranked last.

·       GWS had the biggest rise over the season, gaining 38.5 ranking points and rising from twelfth to third. Other big improvers were Melbourne (+24.3), and – against expectations – Adelaide (+22.0).

·       Richmond had the biggest fall over the season, losing 36.2 ranking points and falling from third to thirteenth. The other big drops were by Fremantle (-31.0), Hawthorn (-22.5), and Brisbane (-20.9).

·       Port Adelaide and North Melbourne were the most ‘average’ clubs of 2016. Port had a median position of ninth, and stayed between sixth and tenth. North Melbourne had a median position of eighth, and stayed between sixth and ninth.

Ladder aside this is pretty much the status of clubs according to the rankings over the course of 2016:

Very top: Adelaide, Sydney.
Almost at top: West Coast, Hawthorn, GWS, Geelong.
Average or just above: Western Bulldogs, North Melbourne, Port Adelaide.
Below average: Richmond, Melbourne, Collingwood, Fremantle, St. Kilda.
Step above bottom: Carlton, Gold Coast.
Bottom: Brisbane, Essendon.  

I’ll do my finals predictions next week, and then a wrap-up after the finals. Enjoy what is shaping up to be an interesting September!

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

The Wooden Finger Five – August 2016

Sydney band Gang of Youths have released a new EP, ‘Let Me Be Clear’, which is made up of songs that they say didn’t quite fit on their album. “All our friends / Are dead and gone,” are the cheery opening lines of ‘A Sudden Light’. It definitely has an ‘80s stadium rock feel to it with its shouted lead vocals, its harmonies and synths, perhaps something like Springsteen in style and either Bon Jovi or Bono in voice.

Actually a bit more research revealed to me that the track is in fact three years old, which sort of blows my chances of a having a contemporary list of listening this month right off the bat. Fortunately though, I already planned to depart from being up to date with three out of my next four choices.

This is a new track, except for that it sounds a bit like Joy Division. But Creative Adult’s new album has quite a range of styles so that’s OK.

Creative Adult are actually playing near me in a couple of weeks in a small club in Collingwood. I wonder what sort of crowd they will get … ? Is it only people in their thirties like me that listen to this type of music now, because it reminds them of music from their past? Are we on to the last generation of twenty-something indie music lovers? But then again even I’m too young to remember when the bands that Creative Adult remind me of – Joy Division and New Order, the Smiths, the Cure – first appeared.

For $15 I’m almost tempted to find out. Anyway, if you live in Melbourne and don’t have a kid you have to negotiate over caring for the night that sounds like a bargain price (by Australian standards) for a band that I reckon would sound pretty good in a small, dark venue.

I didn’t quite intend to start listening to Brazilian Tropicalia music before the Rio Olympic Games but it’s ended up fitting in well with the tone of the month. Caetono Veloso and Gilberto Gil are both worth a listen and from what I understand probably represent what this type of music is generally like.

But the stand-out for me is Os Mutantes. They’re as much psychedelia as Tropicalia, and I think they’re even one of the better psychedelic bands I’ve heard. Their Portugese lyrics and bossa nova harmonies make them clearly different from the more typical 1960s West Coast sound. That is they seem to inhabit a world that is theirs and no-one else’s (I’m not sure if this is completely true), which is pretty much what all disciples of the psychedelic aim for.

Judging from the count of plays on Spotify most people, like me, start with this track and then move on to some others. I recommend doing that as well. Unless you’ve already been listening to them for the last ten years, and are currently laughing at my naivety about music outside of the Anglo-Saxon heritage.

Last week I bought a book called ‘The Rest is Noise: Listening To The Twentieth Century’, by ‘The New Yorker’ music critic Alex Ross, which I had seen recommended in a couple of places when it came out in 2007. Though it sounded worthwhile I had been reluctant to read it for several years as I saw that it was not about the types of music that I listen to – i.e. rock and pop. Indeed rock ‘n’ roll has become so dominant in popular culture that Ross’ book feels at times like an alternative history of twentieth century music, with only passing mentions made of the more significant rock musicians, even though composers like Strauss, Stravinsky, Gershwin, Cage, and Stockhausen are more what music has traditionally been established to be.
I actually started my reading with one of the later chapters, titled ‘Beethoven Was Wrong: Bop, Rock, and the Minimalists’, which seemed like a good entry point for me into the book. That chapter covers Phillip Glass – who I have a cheap CD of somewhere – as well as Steve Reich, Morton Feldman, and Terry Riley. Ross is sparing enough in his praise for works, but so keen and eloquent when he gives it that it led me to want to listen to the music he was describing as soon as I put down the pages. Although not quite – it was 11.30pm, and I figured the works were probably more than a few minutes long so that didn’t happen straightaway, but it did have me searching around in areas of Spotify that I weren’t even quite sure were there.
On ‘Rothko Chapel’: “Feldman made his mourning palpable … There are voices but no words. Chords and melodic fragments float along like shrouded forms, surrounded by thick silence. [T]he emotional sphere of ‘Rothko’s Chapel’ is too large to be considered a memorial for any individual … It might be the chant of millions in a single voice.”  
On the wonderful ‘In C’: “No matter what choices are made in performance, the harmony tends to move into E minor in the middle and into G major (the dominant of C) toward the end … Tying the whole thing together is a pair of high Cs on the piano, pulsing without variation from beginning to end.” And a good choice of quote from music critic Alfred Frankenstein: “Climaxes of great sonority and high complexity appear and are dissolved in the endlessness. At times you feel you have never done anything all your life long but listen to this music and as if that is all there is or ever will be."
I’ll never understand music as well as that. Nevertheless I’ll probably be back next month, perhaps with some more second-hand recommendations from Ross’ opus.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

AFL Power Rankings: Round 21 2016

“They’ve kicked themselves out of it …” It’s the kind of phrase that I often heard my Mum say whenever our team (Richmond) kicked more behinds than goals, particularly if the opposition had kicked more goals than behinds. But in more recent years when this happened I wondered: how much of it was really bad kicking for goal, and how much was kicking for goal from bad spots?

A couple of weeks ago I saw this post by Figuring Footy on ‘Expected Score’, which is what score you would expect a side to kick given where they took their shots on goal from. For example a shot from the top of the goal square is almost certain to end in a goal, and is worth about six expected points, whereas an open-play shot from 40 metres out near the boundary is low percentage, and is worth only about two-and-a-half expected points.

I think this concept is pretty cool. Actually it turns out that there was an article published a month ago in the Herald Sun which showed what, according to Champion Data, the ladder would look like this year if clubs had kicked their expected scores rather than their actual ones. Perhaps, in addition to a reversal of injury luck, Richmond’s big fall this season has in part been due to worse-than-expected kicking for goal. (Although this week, when the Tigers had 18 scoring shots to Geelong’s 32 yet were within a goal of winning, looks like it ran counter to that trend.)

The Figuring Footy post adds another couple of good points. First, good clubs tend to convert shots for goal at roughly the same rate as bad teams – what differentiates them is more the volume and type of chances at goal they create. Second, why doesn’t football coverage make use of expected score? It seems like something that could be calculated in real time, and would add an important insight into the eventual result of the match.

Melbourne makes the biggest jump up in the rankings this week, and for the first time in the six-year history of the rankings the Demons are what could be called ‘good’. They have beaten Hawthorn, and Port Adelaide in South Australia, over the past two weeks, and are now on the cusp of being one of the top eight ranked sides, even if they are still a longshot to play in the finals.

Elsewhere Adelaide and Sydney have separated themselves from the pack, and according to these rankings at least, are now the teams to beat in 2016. But that gap over Hawthorn and Geelong will soon disappear if they don’t grab home ground advantage over them for the finals, making this year’s premiership race still a close call.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

The Finger Points Outwards - No. 125

What are the worst (and best) Olympic sports? [FiveThirtyEight]

What if the Olympics were always held in the one city? [The Atlantic]

The Rio Olympics’ most unbackable favourites. [Hurling People Now]

A formula for picking the best Olympians ever [Bwin]

The best Olympics mascot ever [Slate]

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

What Has Happened To Richmond This Season?

Two years ago, after the Tigers’ poor start to the AFL season, I did a post on ‘what has happened to Richmond?’ They subsequently recovered and even made the finals that year, winning their last nine home-and-away matches.

Well, this season their drop off has been even more remarkable and more sustained. Based on my weekly AFL rankings as of Round 20 the Tigers are six goals per match worse than they were at the end of 2015, easily the biggest drop off of any side, Fremantle included. (The Dockers have dropped off more in terms of wins, but either way Richmond is clearly a lot worse than last season.)

In that 2014 post I suggested one should look for simple explanations first before getting into more wide-ranging, subjective explanations (e.g. they should replace the board). I compared how each player had performed in 2013 with their performance in 2014 up to that point, based on their SuperCoach scores from Champion Data. While SuperCoach scores are not the absolute final word on assessing a player’s performance I think they do help in uncovering some of the more obvious reasons a club has improved or declined.

In the case of Richmond one obvious explanation stands out: Brett Deledio, Bachar Houli, and Ivan Maric were all very productive in 2015, based on their SuperCoach scores, but all of them have played far less in 2016. 2015 Maric has been essentially replaced by 2016 Shaun Hampson, who may indeed be more productive than 2016 Maric, but does not look to be close to the player Maric was last season. Deledio and Houli would also have less productive replacements – whoever they are, they are clearly not from among Richmond’s better players (think of players like Rioli, Short, Corey Ellis, or Menadue). In my 2014 post I considered the absences of Deledio and Maric a main explanation for Richmond’s decline in the first half of 2014.

Kamdyn McIntosh and Troy Chaplin have also played a lot less than in 2015. If one considers Sam Lloyd as a kind of replacement for McIntosh that fairly much washes out. With Chaplin David Astbury could be considered the replacement, and that looks to fairly much wash out too.

On a smaller scale some other productive players have missed a couple of matches here and there. Trent Cotchin, Alex Rance, Anthony Miles, Shaun Grigg, and Nick Vlaustin all played every match or close to every match last season, but this year they have collectively missed a few more matches. Of the more productive players who have played every match Jack Riewoldt has performed about the same, Brandon Ellis has been worse, but Dustin Martin has been better.

The other striking thing is that Tyrone Vickery has fallen off a cliff in terms of performance. I don’t have a ready explanation for that one, as Vickery has not only been markedly worse compared to last season but also the few seasons before that. Given that Vickery has only played about two-thirds of matches the past couple of seasons it is not a huge deal, but it doesn’t help either.

In summary then: Richmond’s most productive players were on the ground a lot in 2015, and that helped the Tigers to 15 wins. This season they have not been as lucky. So if the cause is as simple as that (and I couldn’t say for sure it is) what’s the answer? Basically to replicate their 2015 performance Richmond either needs to hope that its good players can stay healthy, or get their other regular players to improve, or have better replacements waiting in the wings. Injury management aside they probably can’t do too much about hoping players stay healthy. Hence, once the Tigers work out how to address those other factors that may well go some way to addressing their slide.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

The Leaden Finger Gamer’s Review: Batman – The Telltale Series (Episode 1)

I like Batman. I love Telltale Games – even saying once that they may represent the next step in graphic storytelling where the gamer gets to influence the story. So when I first heard that Telltale were doing a Batman series it was like hearing that someone was opening a pub serving craft beer and four cheese pizza two minutes down the street. My excitement ramped up a couple of weeks ago when I saw that the first episode was to be released on August 2 (effectively August 3 in Australia), and I was doing excited movements as I downloaded the game on the day itself.
But there were problems. To cut the story of my battles against technology short I had to update my Basic Input/Output System and version of Windows just to get the game to launch. Then when I finally played the game it jerked and lagged all over the place; I heard characters’ dialogue before their mouths even started moving, and clicking and pressing buttons was far more of a struggle than it should have been.

Fortunately Telltale Games require only simple button pressing so I could still get through the episode without too much trouble, a few inexplicable defeats to Catwoman notwithstanding. Indeed given how little I ended up pressing buttons at the right time but the right actions still seemed to take place it makes me wonder how much the game actually required me to press buttons at all.

Of more consequence was the effect the lags had on my ability to click on the dialogue options I wanted. Given that Telltale Games are built around choosing options within short timeframes that then affect how the game progresses this made playing the game much more stressful and frustrating than it should have been as well. I don’t know how much of these performance issues were due to my computer, or due to the game itself (a patch for the PC version has now been released). While it may seem strange to focus so much of a review on how a game ran on my laptop the lags so much defined my experience of the game that I can’t really think of the game without them.

But let’s get to the story itself. The story focuses on the early days of Batman, with Gotham starting to become infested by crime. Batman is meeting characters like Jim Gordon and Catwoman for the first time, and the police don’t yet trust him (or trust him less). Meanwhile Bruce Wayne is throwing his support behind Harvey Dent, the future Two-Face, to become Gotham’s mayor. But Dent is associating with known mob boss Carmine Falcone, which soon causes difficulties for not only Wayne himself but also his family name. Other Bat-characters like the Penguin and journalist Vicki Vale are also circling around, though their main roles in the story are yet to be revealed.

Telltale have taken some liberties with the Batman mythos, and seem to have taken the viewpoint of ‘what if Batman began in 2016?’ For example Bruce Wayne and Oswald Cobblepot/the Penguin are now childhood friends, and Wayne and Alfred often communicate using mobile phones.

It’s not a bad start. There was more Bruce Wayne than I expected, and possibly too much of Alfred bemoaning that the sole remaining Wayne is spending his life dressing up like a bat and sitting in a cave. The meeting between Bruce Wayne and Catwoman’s alter-ego Selina Kyle was a highlight, with perhaps even more tension and innuendo than the two characters had in ‘Batman Returns’ or ‘The Dark Knight Rises’. Another highlight for me, frustrating controls aside, was linking up enemies and objects as Batman planned in advance how he was going to take out a group of mobsters. A similar mechanic was used when Batman investigated a crime scene, although the trial and error that was involved in that sequence to progress slowed down what was otherwise not a bad use of Batman’s detective skills.

Where does it rate among Telltale Games so far? Disappointedly I guess given that it initially seemed like it would be nerd heaven I think I’d take all of ‘The Walking Dead’, ‘The Wolf Among Us’ and ‘Tales From The Borderlands’ above it. It was just too much of a slog with the lags, whereas I breezed through all of those games. Also it is hard to see how any of the supposedly major decisions in this episode will greatly affect events down the line (and they seemed less ambiguous – I was with the clear majority on most of them).

But there is still a long way to go. It sounds like all of the episodes are coming out this year, which should help the story to flow better as previous events remain fresh in the mind. It’s more of a three cheese pizza and a beer missing a bit of head at this point, but I’m hopeful that it’ll start to come together with the next instalment.

AFL Power Rankings: Round 20 2016

Reading back over this Herald Sun article from earlier in the year (which incidentally may end up being somewhat prescient about Richmond having an 8-14 record), I came across one of the better internet AFL-related comments I’ve ever seen, made by a commenter named ‘Brock’:
“I love football, because it's a great leveller, because it creates a shared interest among people who would otherwise be strangers, because it's an incredible game to watch and – in addition to many other reasons – because of the amazing atmosphere at the MCG during any of the 30+ games I go to each year.

One reason I don't love football is because of the 'supporters', both online and at the ground, that feel a sense of entitlement – to intimidate other people, to provoke other people, to belittle other people, to insult other people. As though a game can justify the type of behaviour that these 'supporters' likely feel is unacceptable in other areas of their lives. As though that behaviour, by way of its persistence, makes a person some kind of personality.

Among other things, it's tiresome, tedious and very rarely original. It lacks imagination. It almost always represents a really sad insight into the mind of the person in question. At the ground, you can see the delight on their faces at having disrupted those around them. In the same way, you can imagine the people behind the keyboard giggling at their own supposed wit, or smiling smugly at having slightly refreshed the wording of the same tired insults. 

In reality – it's provocative only in the way that a really boring movie provokes a person to get up and leave. Draws a reaction in the same way that a dull conversation causes a mind to daydream.

Primarily though, it evokes a sense of pity. Because an aspiration to merely draw a reaction (any reaction, from anyone) seems such an insignificant and trivial thing to aspire to.”

Most of us long-time AFL followers would have been one of those boorish supporters this at some point. I would say that insults are common in a lot of sports – see the major US sports and most soccer clubs – though it seems to me that there is a tinge of smugness in AFL that isn’t as present in other sports.
Still it would be nice to dial back on the same tired old comments. While there are exceptions if you (me included) make a comment in relation to one of the following topics you probably aren’t being anywhere near as funny or original as you think you are.
Adelaide: the city of Adelaide.
Brisbane: trading for Brendan Fevola, players leaving.
Carlton: salary cap breaches, the Mick Malthouse era, ex-Blues forwards being successful elsewhere (Betts, Kennedy, Waite)
Collingwood: supporters’ numbers of teeth, Eddie McGuire’s influence, Travis Cloke and his kicking for goal.
Essendon: supplements, James Hird, basically everything that was in the news from 2013 to early 2016.
Fremantle: inability to kick big scores, trading away good players and high draft picks.
Geelong: Joel Selwood ducking, the 2008 Grand Final.
Gold Coast: Karmichael Hunt, how bad they are compared with GWS.
Greater Western Sydney: high draft picks.
Hawthorn: free kicks.
Melbourne: 186-point loss to Geelong, general ineptitude over the past decade, fans heading to the snow.
North Melbourne: lack of supporters, bringing in older players but not being a premiership contender.
Port Adelaide: choking in finals, the city of Adelaide.
Richmond: finishing ninth, losing elimination finals, sacking coaches.
St. Kilda: only one premiership, how much you hated Stephen Milne.
Sydney: cost of living allowance, Buddy’s nine-year contract.
West Coast: illicit drugs.
Western Bulldogs: lack of supporters, only one premiership back in 1954.

After reaching the top spot in the rankings for the first time last week Greater Western Sydney are leapfrogged this week by Adelaide and Sydney, both of whom won by large margins while the Giants struggled to beat the Gold Coast Suns. In fact 15 of the 18 clubs shifted position this week, with St. Kilda and Melbourne having the most significant wins. The Saints in particular have been big improvers over the past five weeks, and are close to ‘rankings parity’ (i.e. zero ranking points) for the first time since early-2013.