Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Turkey Links: That is to say, links for your entertainment when the food is cleared and the football games are over and your grandpa is sitting on the couch with his belt undone and groaning at the first of what will be uncountable showings of A Christmas Story.
  • The continuing saga of Ricky Williams. I wonder if some casino in Vegas would give odds that Ricky starts a cult that is raided by the DEA at some point within the next 10 years. With a teaser on whether Ricky's official statement will be "Gunga galunga...gunga, gunga-galunga."

  • The worst jobs in science. I could've done without knowing at that some of these existed. So I figured I'd share my pain.

  • Lost Islands of the World. Any one of these would work for the folks who still can’t get over the last election. Fun fact: The remotest inhabited island in the world is Tristan da Cunha, a English settlement in the South Atlantic. There are about 300 people who live there and if you Google "Tristan Da Cunha" 226,000 pages. That's over 750 pages per resident. And yes, I have no idea where I was going with this.

  • Rules for calling shotgun. A good read. Until now, I was always confused by seemingly random cries of "Ozzie Pissbolt!" at the start of a road trip.

  • Basketbrawl Analysis. My favorite sportswriter, Bill Simmons, analyzes the TIVO equivalent of the Zapruder film and discovers -- surprise! -- Ron Artest is certifiably insane.

  • AFI to pick best 100 movie quotes. I'd could tell you my favorite, but then I would have to use the phase, "Gunga Galunga...gunga, gunga-galunga" twice in one post.

Enjoy your cooked, eviserated raptor flesh and pulverized, dirt-incubated tubers with semi-gelatinous, liquified fat coating.
Football Follow-up: 4-1-1. Interestingly the loss was the one where I followed my hard and fast rule. The tie was Green Bay and Houston. That makes my record for three weeks of Football Outsiders based picks 12-3-1. Wow. Your standard degenerate gambler would kill for that record. Maybe I should start a service and charge people.

I'm not sure if I am going to be able to post picks this week, what with the holiday and all. I will certainly make them, but I may not get them on-line in time. If not, I'll share them afterwards and you'll just have to trust me.

Saturday, November 20, 2004

Football Picks -- Week 11: Squeaking in just under the wire. As with the last couple of weeks, these picks are based on the analysis done by Football Outsiders who try to make quantitative evaluations of NFL teams. This evaluation is distilled into a number called DVOA (background). DVOA ratings through last week are listed here. This week they also did a set of DVOAs which were more heavily weight towards the later games. It makes sense to place more emphasis on the later games, so those are the figures I'm using. The point lines are from Vegas.com, as of about 11PM Friday. I take the most beneficial odds available under the assumption that it is what I could get in Vegas. Your mileage may vary.

Kind of slim pickings this week. Just one obvious choice.

I've been trying to develop a rule of thumb which states that when a team is 40 or more DVOA percentage points superior and is giving a touchdown or less, take the favorite, give the points. There is only one such situation this week. San Diego is 52.7 percentage points superior to Oakland, but is giving only 4 points. So there's an obvious pick right there: Chargers -4.

The other three situations where a team is at least 40 percentage points superior in DVOA are Baltimore over Dallas, Tampa Bay over San Francisco, Philly over Washington. In the case of Baltimore and Tampa Bay, they are giving 7.5 points as the favorite. A couple of things make these appealing. First, the favorite is at home, which is usually good for three points. Second, in both these cases, the favorite DVOA is trending up and the underdog is trending down. On the other hand, after my big week last week, I promised myself not to do anything stupid. Oh well, stupid is as stupid does. I'll take both Baltimore and Tampa Bay and give 7.5 points. Philly is giving 10.5 points to Washington and that is too generous for me.

The next set of games to examine are those where the team with superior DVOA is the underdog. Here's the list:
  • Buffalo is 7.5 points superior in DVOA and is getting 1.5 points from St. Louis.

  • The New York Jets are 23.4 points superior in DVOA and are getting a single point from Cleveland.

  • The New York Giants are a whopping .3 superior in DVOA and are getting a field goal from Atlanta.

  • Houston is 4.5 points superior in DVOA and are getting a field goal from Green Bay.

It seems like the Jets would be an obvious pick, but remember the recent injury to their QB Chad Pennington. Quincy Carter is the replacement and I'm just not comfortable with him. I'll pass on the Jets until we get a better idea of how they are functioning with Carter. The Giants and Atlanta are just too close in DVOA to make a call on this basis. Buffalo and Houston are both tempting and both are at home, so let's pull the trigger on those -- pick Buffalo +1.5 and Houston +3.

The last category we'll look at is games where the point spread is greater than a touchdown but the DVOAs are less than, say, 30. In this case there are two: Seattle is 29.6 points superior in DVOA and is giving a whopping 10 points to Miami. In a lot of cases this would be tempting, but Seattle is at home and Miami has packed it in for the season, so I'm going to pass on it. Remarkable how my tune has changed on Miami over the course of the season. The other one is Minnesota being 3.6 points superior in DVOA to Detroit and giving 7.5. It is in Minnesota, but I'm going take the risk on this one since I think the Lions can stay within a touchdown and Randy Moss' situation is still iffy.

To recap:
  • San Diego -4 over Oakland

  • Baltimore -7.5 over Dallas

  • Tampa Bay -7.5 over San Francisco

  • Buffalo +1.5 over St. Louis

  • Houston +3 over Green Bay

  • Detroit +7.5 over Minnesota

I shall now hold my breath.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Status Memo: Master and Commander came to HBO on Saturday. I saw it in a hotel room during one of my travels and thought it to be very good. I have now seen it two more times and my admiration has grown each time. I may have to review it. A strikingly well thought out piece of drama.

This really gnaws my ass: There are two radio stations in the area that have for the past couple of weeks, been playing nothing but Christmas music. That means they will have played nearly two full months of Christmas music by the time it's all over. Do advertisers really favor that, spending a full sixth of the year with nothing but annoying, repetitive holiday music? I suppose they hope they will get played as background music in retail stores trying to put shoppers in the gift buying mood. Who knows, maybe it works. Doesn't stop me from cursing them.
Travel Links: Thought I'd take a moment to share some interesting travel links I've found in my, well, travels.
  • Mobissimo searches dozens of airfare sites to get you the best deal, including many non-US based services.

  • Seat Guru will help you pick the right seat once you have your flight.

  • Fodor's keeps munch of the info in their travel guides on line; and Right This Way is Fodor's blog of the latest travel news.

  • Frommer's is a competitor to Fodor's, a bit better at hotel reviews.

  • Travel Intelligence, yet another since for reviews and guidance.

  • Johnny Jet is all links all the time.

  • Travel Zoo keeps up on the current deals.

  • IgoUgo consists of actual travel journals from actual people. Some good scoop when making plans. I may be posting future travel writing here.

  • Tripadvisor is the site I rely on when deciding what hotel to book. Most hotels have dozens reviews and comments from recent visitors. This is the site that will save you from falling for the beautiful pictures on the hotel web site. Plus, once you find a hotel you like, click the Best Deals link and you can search Expedia, Hotels.com, Travelocity, and Orbitz for the best rate. Far and away the most important travel resource on the web.

Habla Espanol?: There are a couple of thing about the new U2 song, Vertigo worth mentioning. First, it is the only U2 song I have ever heard that doesn't make me hit the Seek button.

Second, in what bizarre numerical system is it legitimate to count "uno…dos…tres…catorce"? One…two…three…fourteen? This is very disturbing. Bono, who is never less than multi-culturally aware and politically correct, doesn’t take the time to learn to correctly count to four in Spanish? Then he throws in an "Hola!" and a "Donde estas?" to sound even more like someone dumbass gringo in Tijuana trying to make nice with the locals. I'm guessing the guy from his entourage who got sent out for the Spanish phrasebook is on the street now.
Football Follow-up: 5-1. Wow. My continuing experiment in basing picks on Football Outsiders DVOA has generated two great weeks of remarkable results. This could turn out to be something. Of course, what that means is that I have to be ardently on guard against doing something stupid this week.

The new DVOAs are already out at Football Outsiders and this week they have introduced a weighted DVOA that more heavily weights recent games. I'll have to figure out how that is going to fit into my picks for this week.

BTW, I have a new piece on football fandom up over at Blogcritics.

Friday, November 12, 2004

Football Picks – Week 10: This week we continue our experiment with picks based on the DVOA ratings (background) produced by Football Outsiders. This week's DVOA ratings are here. This week's point spreads are here (I'm using the spreads as of about 8 PM eastern on Friday night).

Let's start with the big differences in DVOA. Philly is 50.2 DVOA points higher than Dallas and giving 6.5 points in odds. Even better, Pittsburgh is 40.5 DVOA points higher than Cleveland and giving only 3.5 points in odds. I'm hoping to have a rule of thumb where if a team is 40 or more percentage points higher in DVOA and is giving less than a touchdown, you take the favorite. So my first two picks are Philly -6.5 over Dallas and Pittsburgh -3.5 over Cleveland.

New England is close. They are 39.8 DVOA points higher than Buffalo and giving 7 points in odds. That's borderline. It's tempting, but I'm going to keep them on provisional watch because they are banged up (remember DVOA will not take into account injuries until their effect is worked into the plays and scores of the season) and because Buffalo is improving and they are at home.

Next, there are 5 match-ups where the team with the stronger DVOA is the underdog:
  • Detroit is +6.9 in DVOA over Jacksonville but Jax is giving 3.5

  • Cincinnati is +6.4 in DVOA over Washington but Washington is giving 3.5

  • Minnesota is +13.1 in DVOA over Green Bay but Green Bay is giving 4.5

  • Chicago is +13.6 in DVOA over Tennessee but Tennessee is giving 6

  • Carolina is +19.3 in DVOA over San Francisco but San Francisco is giving 1

Well. I'm going to pass on Detroit and Cincy since 6.x is not all that much of the difference and the three and a half points are roughly the advantage the other teams should have for being at home. Too dicey.

Minnesota is tempting, but the injury to Randy Moss plus the game being at Lambeau, makes me think it's best to pass here also.

The other two are sweet. Chicago has a reasonably better DVOA and gets a solid six points, and Carolina has a significantly higher DVOA than SF and still gets a point. Add two more picks: Chicago +6 and Carolina +1. We can keep provisional watch on the other higher rated underdogs.

In the remaining games there a couple of other opportunities. I can get a pick 'em on Seattle vs. St. Louis, yet Seattle is 28.9 points higher in DVOA, this is also something of a revenge game for Seattle after the tough loss to the Rams a few weeks ago. And Baltimore is 3.8 points in DVOA better than the New York Jets with a pick 'em. Bearing in mind the Chad Pennington is down and the less talented substance abuser Quincy Carter is leading the Jets, while the talented and probably angry substance abuser Jamal Lewis is making his return after suspension for the Ravens. I'm guessing the Ravens take this one handily. So add two more picks, Seattle and Baltimore even steven.

To recap, I'm making six picks (a lot for me):
  • Philly -6.5 over Dallas

  • Pittsburgh -3.5 over Cleveland

  • Chicago +6 over Tennessee

  • Carolina +1 over San Francisco

  • Seattle over St. Louis straight up

  • Baltimore over New York Jets straight up

Vegas is getting closer everyday.

Monday, November 08, 2004

What a Wreck: My New Orleans travel article is done. Other than that, I can only ask: Could things get any more mangled?

I have a desktop (rarely used) and a laptop. This week I had the hard drive on the desktop crashed. Not exactly sure what went wrong, but I reinstalled the operating system (Win2K) and it seemed to be going well. Then, I stupidly connected to the internet before re-applying all the security/service packs I had installed over the years. Damned if it wasn't about 15 minutes before I had a virus infection (Sasser, I believe). OK, so I download an anti-virus package and run it. And I stupidly (once again) tell the thing to remove all infected files (at this point I think well over 100 files were infected), even the critical ones. Naturally that removes files that are needed for me to access the CD-ROM, which I need to reinstall the operating system again, so I can install the files needed for the CD-ROM, which I can;t use cause of the missing files. Arrgh. So I have to reconfigure the BIOS to boot the CD and do a completely clean install. What a pain in the ass. It's tempting to say the lesson is that you can never drop you guard even for a minute when it comes to Internet security. It's also tempting to say the lesson is that I am an idiot. But the real lesson is that the little snot-gobblers who write viruses should be skinned and salted.

Then, in the course of trying to get some laptop data moved over to the desktop I discover I cannot copy files to my CD-R. I can use software to duplicate entire CDs, but I can’t copy individual files and folders. This laptop is a Dell Inspiron and has been nothing but trouble since I bought it. So I write down the particulars of the problem go into work today with a plan to log into to Dell's technical support chat only to find that after entering my problem in detail and clicking submit, I get a message saying no one is available please try again later. Why couldn’t they have told me that before I typed it up? So I go to Dell email support only to discover you need to enter the "tag" number of your machine so they can route your email properly. I don’t have the tag number, I'm at work, my laptop's at home. KEEE-RIST!

So in the interest of doing something productive, I walk over to the nearest brick wall and pound my head against it for a good solid five minutes.

In an unrelated development, it seems the hotel follies from my last trip to NYC will never end. I get my American Express bill and I find the Hilton in New York has posted a $69.80 charge to my credit card for use of the mini-bar.

First of all, I NEVER EVER use the mini-bar. I have a deep seated philosophical opposition to the mini-bar. I believe it is blatantly exploitive. I generally take a very dim view of the anti-corporate-they-are-all-out-to-rip-us-off-to-line-their-silk-pockets whack jobs who protest WTO meetings and Wal*Mart openings. But I draw the line at the mini-bar. It is an evil attempt to get you to pay exorbitant prices just because there is little alternative. I will pay princely sums for ultra-luxurious hotels, but I refuse to spend three dollars for a bottle of water from the mini-bar. You gotta have some boundaries in this world.

Second, even considering the usurious prices, $69.80 would have to pretty much empty the thing, wouldn't it? Let's see, figure an average of three dollars for a drink or a bag of peanuts means I would have had to down something on the order of 10 warm Seagram's Ginger Ales, 8 Butterfingers, 3 little bags of trail mix, and a couple of Bud Light's for dessert -- or something to that effect. What, did they think I was trolling Manhattan with Cheech and Chong?

Luckily, and to the credit of the Hilton, this was cleared up with a quick phone call. Saved me another trip to the brick wall.
Maybe I Can Drive Her Car: HRH Miss Anna managed to land a role in a pilot for the Sci-Fi channel to be produced by Roman Pictures and entitled, Signals. If From the description, it sounds a little X-files-ish. Anna is set to play Tina Morgan, the girlfriend of young Zack Rebak, child genius and psychic stud-boy. No telling what will come of all this, but Anna is clearly on her way to stardom. I'm sure she'll let me be in her entourage.
Thanks For Listening: It seems Alan Ball has decided to take my advice and nail the coffin shut on Six Feet Under. Frightening, the power I wield.
Football Follow-up: Interesting. My Football Outsiders based picks came out 3-1, with only Denver defying their DVOA. On the other hand, my provisional observations were all WAY off base. More on this when this week's DVOA comes out and the spreads stabilize. Very interesting.

Note: The '72 Dolphins popped the corks this week.

Saturday, November 06, 2004

Football Picks – Week 9: Thought I forgot about these, didn’t you? We're going to try something a little different this week.

There is a site you may have heard of called Football Outsiders where, over the past couple of years, they have been working hard at doing deep statistical analysis of football. In the same vein as has been done for many years in baseball, where you may have heard the term Sabrematics to describe it. (Interestingly, the godfather of Sabrematics is a man named Bill James, who for many years produced the annual Baseball Abstract, an exhaustive compendium of baseball statistics. This past year, he was hired by the Boston Red Sox as a consultant. Do the math.)

FO has developed a formula called DVOA, which stands for Defense-adjusted Value Over Average. In their own words:
Every single play run in the NFL gets a "success value" based on this system, and then that number gets compared to the average success values of plays in similar situations for the entire season for all players, adjusted for a number of variables. These include down and distance, field location, time remaining in game, and current scoring lead or deficit. Rushing plays are compared to other rushing plays, passing plays to other passing plays, tight ends get compared to tight ends and wideouts to wideouts.


By adjusting each play based on the defense's average success in stopping that type of play over the course of a season, we get DVOA, or Defense-adjusted Value Over Average. Rushing and passing plays are adjusted based on down and location on the field; receiving plays are also adjusted based on how the defense performs against passes to running backs, tight ends, and wide receivers.

You could read the whole thing, but I'm pretty sure your head would explode. Bottom line is, they come up with a percentage value for each team in the league. A positive percentage means better than average, a negative percentage worse. (They also apply this formula to individual players, but that's not relevant here.)

Now, the folks at FO go to great pains to point out that their numbers are NOT meant to be predictive. They don’t take into account things like injuries and such. But, if one assumes they are on to something, one might look for discrepancies between DVOA and the point-spread, for gambling guidance. Mighn't one?

Here are the spreads (probably gone by the time you read this). Here are the DVOA ratings through week 8. This time I'll do the math.

There are two games where the DVOA difference is over 40%. Seattle (11.0) at San Francisco (-35.3) -- the spread is Seattle -7. New England (31.9) at St Louis (-18.0) -- the spread is New England -1. I'm going to take that favorite in both these, on the principal that such a large difference really tilts the scales in my favor, especially regarding the Patriots, although it's easy to make a case for the Rams given the New England injuries.

Next, Houston (10.0) at Denver (8.4) -- the spread is Denver -6.5. These are the two closest in DVOA and Houston is actually ranked slightly better. Given the big spread for Denver, I'll take the Houston and the points.

The only other game where the favorite in the spread has a lower DVOA than the underdog is Arizona (-9.7) at Miami (-37.6) -- the spread is Miami -3. Notice how I have not said Miami is not as bad as everyone thinks. I'm pretty much cured of that particular delusion. So we'll take the Cardinals and the field goal here.

Provisional comments: These are not picks, just observations. Other games that look out of line are the Jets -3 over Buffalo when their DVOA is 26.1 points greater and KC over the Bucs by 3 when their DVOA is 30.8 greater. You'd think that much of a difference would be worth more than a mere field goal. Then there's the Philly versus Pittsburgh pick 'em, when Philly is 16.8 points greater in DVOA.

To recap, my official picks are:
  • Seattle -7 over San Francisco

  • New England -1 over St. Louis

  • Houston +6.5 over Denver

  • Arizona +3 over Miami

This could be interesting. I may try to keep this going over the next few weeks to see how it averages out.

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Forced to Abstain: I must admit that I didn’t vote yesterday. It was not for lack of effort. I went by the polls three times and all three times folks were telling tales of two hour waits. I simply did not have two straight empty hours yesterday to stand in line.

If I thought there was going to be a huge wait, I would have planned for it, but I live in the formerly sleepy, semi-rural little town of Dexter, MI. Four years ago, I went to the polls on the way to work, and got in and out in less than half an hour. Of course, had I given it some thought, it would have occurred to me that I used to be able to go to the post office at Noon and there would be no line -- now it's out the door; and they had to build larger High and Middle schools just to hold the influx of young-uns. Shoulda - woulda - coulda. Net result, I didn’t vote in a federal election for the first time since 1980.

I am not passionate about politics in the slightest. I have opinions, of course (it may surprise you to hear that I am somewhat opinionated), but I rarely share my political ones. In my experience, most people who ask about your political opinions only want an excuse to go off on some sort of self-satisfying rant about their own political opinions, which are almost always just peep holes on their personal neuroses.

I would have voted for Bush, but frankly, I wasn't particularly worried if Kerry got elected. Maybe because I've seen the country survive and even prosper under presidents I didn’t vote for, I don't get all worked up about these things. Maybe because, though I have lots of opinions, I just don’t have the arrogant certainty that they are unquestionably correct and invariably urgent. Maybe it's good that I let everyone else make the decision this time. From now on, it's absentee for me.

On the upside, I am finally starting to feel better; not surprisingly that coincides with my getting the re-proofed manuscript of Business As Usual off to the new publisher. Still, I need more hours in the day than the solar system currently allows.