Saturday, November 27, 2010

Football as a sport...

Nevada beat Boise State at home. In the process they likely cost the school a hefty BCS paycheck and likely relegated themselves to a more lowly bowl.

Nice reward, eh?

A few years ago, LSU raised the poppycock about not losing a single game in regulation (they lost two in OT) to lobby their way in to the national championship game. This was the same year that Hawaii ended the season undefeated without a chance to play. LSU won the game, while Hawaii (after losing their coach) got stomped by Georgia. It seemed like vindication of the naysayers. However, what would have happened if it were the other way around?

The next season, Alabama lost the SEC championship game, and was then destroyed by undefeated Utah in a BCS game. This time the story was "letdown". Hmm... It seems the SEC always has a way to spin things their way.

Back to the WAC, Nevada likely ended the hopes of a BCS payday for the WAC. Boise and Nevada will likely rank far ahead of anyone from the Big East that might make a BCS game. They will likely be ahead of the ACC champion also. But their reward is a mediocre bowl. By winning, Nevada may have also won a trip to New Mexico instead of San Francisco. Whopee!

Yet they still played their heart out. And won. Now they can claim bragging rights with a victory over Boise and a tie in the conference standings. The cost? Only a few million for their program. C'est la vie.

The Time Traveler's Wife

The premise involves a man, Henry, who has crono-displacement disorder. This causes him to involuntarily slip from the present to points in the past or future. There tends to be some order to the places that he goes. (He often ends up in the same place at different times.) Though he has the free will to interact with the events in different time periods, the course of action is already set. Thus, his actions in the past can't change the future. They are in fact already part of the future that he is coming from.

This provides a solution to the 'past change' dilemma of time travel. It also provides a good set up for a love story. Henry and Claire each meet each other for the "first time" with one person knowing what the future has in store, while the other is oblivious. They also get to have a kid who travels around and has adventures with her dad, even after he is dead.

Unfortunately, the writing is very confused. The end strays heavily and drags on and on and on and on. The tone also bounces around from schmaltzy sentimentality to excessive vulgarity. The time travel approach leaves some plot points that seem to be only partially covered. It also suffers from a confused morality and scientific explanation. Perhaps the best part of the writing was the detailed descriptions of Chicago.

Friday, November 26, 2010

BCS dream come true

Alabama was a few touchdowns ahead of Auburn. Then they must have realized, "hey, if we win we might not have an SEC team in the title game." So, like the true southern gent, they keeled over and let Auburn have the game.

Oregon looked like they were having trouble at Arizona. But, hey, the Ducks don't really start to play until the second half anyway. (Notwithstanding the Cal episode - they must have got lost on the way to the stadium there.)

Things looked close, but the crisis was averted. Sure, Oregon isn't in the Big- conference, but at least they are BCS, undefeated, and most important, have gobs of money and fans.

In the late game, the BCS got another dream come true as Nevada defeated Boise. Luckily for BCS-land, Nevada had to travel to Hawaii this year and has a loss to their record. Two one-less WAC teams can enjoy their top-20 rankings and visits to exciting bowl games like the Kraft Fight Hunger bowl. No need to worry the BCS there.

Unfortunately, not all was well in BCS land. The Big East continued its string of ineptitude, leaving Connecticut in the driver's seat for the title. They just have to beat Cincinnati (who is a far cry from last year's team) and USF (who seems to end the season a few weeks before other teams.) Neither game will be easy, but both are possible. That will leave an 8-4 team (i.e. one that does not have enough wins to be an at large team) in the BCS game. Worse yet, they are from a relatively small market that doesn't care much about football. They do have good basketball fans, so there is some hope that they make it out there.

In the best scenario, UConn loses and West Virginia wins, leaving an 'acceptable' 9-3 West Virginia to play in a BCS bowl. But this is the Big East, so it wouldn't be too surprising to see them lose to Rutgers. This could allow Pitt, with a 7-5 record to make it. If Rutgers wins and Cincinnati manages to run the table, the Bearcats could actually share the Big East championship - at 6-6. (However, with this scenario, West Virginia would probably win the tiebreakers.)

Luckily, no one really cares about the Big East in BCS land. They will probably just be the filler for some good traveling at-large Big-10 team to pound.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea

The science seems impressive, though the story gets tedious. The tone of the story felt more like Darwin than other Jules Verne adventure novels.

In this story, there are reports of a giant sea creature in the ocean. The narrator ends up on a ship that is going out to investigate. Through a series of events, he and two others end up being rescued by a the "creature" which turns out to be the ship "Nautalis". The captain of the ship, Nemo, has recused himself from society and lives now in the sea.

The narrator and his companions are now "prisoners" aboard the Nautilus. However, they are given freedom to explore, with their only main restriction that they are not permitted to leave the ship on their own. Through this they discover all of the great discoveries that Nemo has made, including submarine travel, undersea tunnels, electric ships, precious metal and mineral stores, strange animals and parts of the earth nobody has seen. Some of the science was ahead of its time, while other has been shown to be wrong.

In there voyages, they have a few adventures, including Nemo's attacks on some unknown enemy crews. However, the main conflict is against nature, rather than man. They have to fight giant sea creatures, escape from enclosing icebergs and endure horrid storms.

Eventually the narrator and his companions (the Narrator, Pierre Aronnax, his servant, Conseil, and the Canadian, Ned Land) escape the ship on a boat and live to tell their tale.

Monday, November 22, 2010

The New Frugality

Conservative, simplistic advice in consumer economics. It is well carried out with plenty of personal experiences. The underlying thesis is that the fall of the economy in the "great recession" has triggered a change in behavior and circumstances. The excessive consumption of the past cannot be continued and today people will be required to live within their means. He thus provides a number of tips for doing that.

The goal, however, is not to sacrifice the quality of life. Instead, "excess" should be siphoned off, while still spending generously (within one's means) on areas that provide value. Debt is generally to be avoided, but is appropriate in some cases. Renting a house is often very appropriate, especially when house values are high relative to rentals. Saving for retirement and other events is good. Credit cards can be good or bad depending on how they are used.

The author presents his "goals" in a fairly open manner, acknowledging that different people function in different ways.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

This Missng Golden Ticket

The selling point of this book is the "missing chapter" from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. This is a humorous chapter about "spotty powder", a substance nearly identical to sugar, but which causes short term "spots" to appear on the body.

Unfortunately, this chapter is only a couple of pages long, so a lot had to be added to complete a book. The chapter also featured characters that did not make it in the the final cut of the book. Some of the book provide background on the book's creation and the "missing characters" that didn't make it in to the published book.

The main "theme" of the book, however, is Raold Dahl's year. Each month is given a brief chapter. In between these chapters are other bits, including Chocolate Factory trivia, tips on writing, and even candy recipes. The in-between chapters tends to be better than the actual "month" chapters. The book, however, is quite a jumble, jumping from serious to humorous. It is really only for the most dedicated Roald Dahl fan who must have everything.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

It Can't Happen Here

A Democrat politician builds up a base of support of a political operative and a radio pastor and his conservative organization. After assuming the presidency he uses the pastors now-militarized organization to help him assume fascist dictatorial powers. He institutes policies that appear on the surface to be beneficial to the common man. However, the prime beneficiaries tend to be the big businesses. The pastor is quickly incarcerated "for his safety" and a strict police state eventually results, with communication and transportation heavily restricted. An underground resistance movement gradually pops up.

The president has a big heart and thinks he is doing the best for the country. However, he is eventually deposed by his operative, who is later assassinated by someone else. After a string of assassinations, the country starts to return to some sense of normalcy.

The author is obviously trying to make a political statement against the gradual reduction of rights either by their outright restriction or by the granting of new rights. Even the best of intentions can lead towards the path of the downfall. Fascism can easily arise from seemingly left-leaning liberal policies. Unfortunately, the book does go a little too far over the top in the "fall" of the society, making the characters a little less believable than they could be.

Stranger In A Strange Land

A child conceived on an ill-fated mission to Mars is raised by Martians. As a young adult, he is chosen to return to earth on a reconnaissance mission. However, he doesn't know his true purpose, and ends up becoming a pawn in the goals of many nefarious characters. Due to his martian upbringing, he behaves differently, and seems to have many "supernatural" powers. Also, due to some legal precedents, he has enormous wealth and power. A journalist and a nurse "rescue" him from a hospital and team with a renaissance-man lawyer and his "harem". The "man from mars" eventually founds his own religion (which seems seems more in line with a hippie free-love movement) and is "martyred" by an upset public.

The book starts out as a fairly standard science fiction book, but then starts to get very tedious as he meanders around his Martian-influenced morality.

We'll Always Have Paris

A collection of Bradbury short stories. The stories tend to deal with middle age adults and social situations. Some have a distinct science fiction flavor (such as a "living" radio character or a space trip to mars), however, the focus is on the human reactions rather than the science. Almost all the stories end with some sort of minor twist. Nothing stood out as being really great.

Friday, November 19, 2010

The Fourth Bear

Jasper Fforde writes with a zany brand of humor similar to the late Douglas Adams. In this book, we encounter a number of persons of dubious reality (PDRs). Luckily, the police have a nursery crimes division that helps solve crimes involving these characters. The lead character, Jack, is an officer of the nursery crimes division who happens to be a PDR himself. In the story, we get the gingerbread man as a genetically engineered master criminal, a "binary" space alien as a police force member, and all sorts of other bizarre characters. This book must have been a blast to write, and makes a great read.

The BCS conference beauty contest

In the Yahoo! Sports Blog Pollin' table, a list of the top 6 wins by each team is provided. The inclusion or exclusion of a team in the "quality list" is somewhat arbitrary. (3-6 Cincinnati, 4-6 Ole Miss and 5-5 BYU appear, but 7-4 Toledo doesn't make the cut. The criteria seems to be "BCS conference team or popular non-BCS team.) However aside from the criteria issue, it appears that the wins are built almost entirely of teams in the same conference.

TCU and Oklahoma are the only teams that get credited with 3 of their top 6 wins against non-conference opponents. (though Boise State's Toledo win would probably rank as 4th best if it were included.) Only 5 teams (Boise, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Arizona) include victories over top 25 out of conference teams.

So what does this tell us? Most top ranked teams get there by beating high-ranked conference opponents. These high ranked opponents are high-ranked because: 1) they have few losses in conference play and 2) they have victories over inferior teams out of conference.

How is the best way to carry this out? Well, the ACC, SEC and Big-12 have a pretty good model. 1) They have the "BCS" status that allows them to schedule money games against inferior opponents. Most teams will schedule three or four easy wins. 2) They have 12 teams in the conference, yet only play 8 conference games. This minimizes the internal conference carnage.

The Big-10 comes close to the model, with 8 conference games and an 11 team league.

The Big East plays a full round-robin schedule, but due to league size play only 7 conference games. In this case, the five non-conference games works against them. They lack the money, reputation (and quality) to play 5 sure-wins, and often end up with more competitive non-conference match-ups. The complete round-robin schedule also hurts.

Of the BCS conferences, the Pac-10 does the worst job of guaranteeing its BCS riches. The 9 round-robin conference schedule adds in additional conference losses. They also tend to schedule more competitive non-conference games. (Geography is a factor - the WAC and Mountain West are the nearest conferences, and happen to be the best of the non-BCS conferences.)

For the non-BCS conferences, scheduling is the big disadvantage. The lower teams in the conference often schedule body-bag games to bring in revenue, adding to conference loses. Due to poor conference perception, the top teams schedule more competitive games (and fewer "sure wins").

The ranking of each team, with the top nonconference wins (number proceeding is where it ranks in top 6 wins, number after is where the team ranks in top 25).
1) Auburn : 6. Clemson
2) Oregon : 0
3) TCU : 2. Baylor, 5. SMU, 6. Oregon State
4) Boise State: 1. Virginia Tech (16), 3. Oregon State
5) LSU : 4. West Virginia, 5. North Carolina
6) Stanford: 3. Notre Dame
7) Nebraska: 5. Washington
8) Oklahoma State: 0
9) Michigan State: 5. Notre Dame
10) Wisconsin: 3. Arizona State
11) Ohio State: 1. Miami (25)
12) Alabama: 4. Penn State
13) Missouri: 4. Illinois
14) Oklahoma: 1. Florida State (24), 2. Air Force, 6. Cincinnati
15) Arkansas: 2. Texas A&M (19)
16) Virginia Teach: 5. North Carolina
17) Nevada: 1. Cal
18) South Carolina: 0
19) Texas A&M: 0
20) USC: 0
21) Arizona: 1. Iowa (22)
22) Iowa: 0
23) NC State: 2. UCF, 5. Cincinnati
24) Florida State: 4. BYU
25) Miami: 3. Pitt

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Comparing the BCS humans to computers

It is intriguing to compare the difference between the computer and "human" scores in the BCS rankings. The computer scores are prohibited from including margin of victory in their score calculations. A commanding 30 point road win counts as much as a last-second hail-Mary for a one point home victory.

From that, we can compare the rankings of the top 9 teams. These all conveniently have the same rankings in both human polls used. They also have no agreement between computers and humans.

This season, Oregon and Boise have been dominating just about everyone they've played. Unfortunately, a lot of their opponents have had fairly mediocre records. Thus, it would make sense to see the humans give them a boost that they computers can't.
LSU and Auburn, on the other hand, have beat a number of highly-touted teams. However, many of their victories have been less than impressive. (LSU only beat a mediocre Tennessee team because the Volunteers had 13 men on the field for the final play.) It makes sense to see these teams docked by the humans.

TCU is a little more difficult to explain. They have played dominated a schedule of "ok" teams. The domination would seem to imply a preference in the human polls. However, the computers slightly favor them. This may be do to the poor performance against a poorly-perceived San Diego State team, coupled with Notre Dame's victory over Utah. (TCU's previous marquee win.) Though perhaps the computers get this right in spite of their limitations. San Diego State's previous two losses can be at least partially attributed to late-game blown calls. The 5-point loss to TCU was their biggest loss of the season. This week Baylor, Utah and Oregon State all loss, hurting the ranking with the computers. However, even last week, the humans had them lower than the computers.

Stanford is another odd case. They are 5th in the computers, yet 8th in the human polls. Most wins have been of the impressive-domination variety. They were also ahead for a good portion of their loss to #1 Oregon. They recently destroyed a ranked Arizona team. Their close victories were over a ranked USC team and against Arizona State in Tempe.

The Stanford rankings are especially baffling when compared to Wisconsin. The Badgers also had a narrow win over ASU (though that game was in Madison). They also squeaked out a victory over the ranked Iowa team. They have had a few blowout wins over mediocre teams. They also had a nice victory over a ranked Ohio State, and a loss to a one-loss Michigan State. The top of the resume seems fairly comparable to Stanford's. At the bottom, however, you have 1-win San Jose State, and 2 win UNLV, Minnesota, and FCS Austin Peay. Stanford has 2 win Washington State and Wake Forest, as well as 6-4 FCS Sacramento State at the bottom. The computers seem to have things right. You have to wonder why the pollsters love Wisconsin so much.

Ohio State also gets the Wisconsin treatment, with a human ranking much higher than the computer ranking. In this case the name is the big factor. After all, the are Ohio State.

The 'name recognition' of Ohio State may also be what gives Nebraska the lower computer ranking. That, and the fact that Texas has shown itself to be really, really bad. Nebraska seems to be pulling the anti-Cal, putting up its worst performances at home.

Team Harris Coaches Comp. SOS
1. Oregon (1) 1st 1st 2nd T-87th
2. Auburn (2) 2nd 2nd 1st 12th
3. TCU (3) 4th 4th T-3rd 55th
4. Boise St. (4) 3rd 3rd T-6th T-87th
5. LSU (5) 6th 6th T-3rd T-8th
6. Stanford (6) 8th 8th 5th T-65th
7. Wisconsin (7) 5th 5th 12th 75th
8. Nebraska (8) 9th 9th 8th T-57th
9. Ohio State (9) 7th 7th 13th T-70th

Thursday, November 11, 2010


Compass is a meandering story about a lot of people that have had something to do with the compass. Brits get the most attention here, with quality engineers as well as the politically connected getting their space. A long time ago, compasses were simple needles in water. Then things "advanced" to card-based compasses, only to come back to the floating needles. (I had not realized how inaccurate compasses could be - and that the variation tends to differ greatly based on location. )

The book seems to spend a lot of time on topics that had abundant information, with plenty of random attempts at wit and political bits. There is some interesting material in here, though it could use a good deal of editing to get down to a coherent book.

Great Train Robbery

This is the historical account of a Victorian-era heist of gold from a moving train. Most of the novel concerns the planning involved in carrying out the robbery. The actual robbery happens near the end (and is appropriately only a small part of the whole operation.) The final bit details the public reaction, along with the capture and escape of the robbers. (The final destination of gold and thieves is not known.)

Though based on true events, it is told in a highly engaging manner similar to Crichton's other thrillers. Instead of scientific details, we get details of mid 19th-century life and criminal activity. The criminals are portrayed sympathetically as smart, highly creative individuals engaged in a complicated plot.

The actual robbery required a number of preparatory actions: to open the safes on the train, the keys needed to be obtained. This required social activity to locate the keys, and even a jailbreak to get someone with the proper skills needed to help obtain and duplicate the keys. There were so many ways that the plot could have failed, it is a wonder that it totally succeeded.

Boise State - TCU rematch?

TCU beat Boise in the Poinsettia Bowl two years ago
Boise beat TCU in the Fiesta Bowl last year
Next year, they will be in the same conference, and have a chance to play each other during the regular season.
For this year, it would only make sense to have them play in the BCS championship game this year.
How far-fetched is it?
Not likely at the present, but still possible.
Oregon looks like the best team around now. They annihilated some mediocre teams in non-conference play. Then they continued on steamrolling some really good teams during conference play. However, they play in the PAC-10. It seems every year, the "great one" suffers some inscrutable loss.

Cal could be the trap. Cal has blown away opponents at home, but been destroyed on the road. Unfortunately, Oregon makes the trip to Berkeley. Fortunately for the Ducks, Cal may have "ended" its curse by barely squeaking by Washington State on the road.

Arizona is in Eugene on a Friday night after a week's rest. Seems like a sure-fire Duck win. But that could be just the cockiness that lets them fall in an unexplained loss. Arizona is also coming in after a week off, and is a ranked program. Oregon will be paying attention.

Oregon State is the final chance for failure. The Beavers have been struggling this year. However, they are another picture of inconsistent. During the non-conference schedule they lost to two top-5 outfits, and beat a decent Big East team. That all seemed fairly normal. However, in conference play, they've beat the 3rd, 5th, and 6th(Tied) schools. Then lost to the two other schools tied for 6th. It wouldn't be too surprising to see them beat Oregon.

As for Auburn, they get the benefit of the doubt by playing in the SEC. They have won some close games over some good teams. The game against Georgia doesn't seem too difficult. The rivalry game against Alabama, however, could be very dangerous. Then the SEC championship game, possibly against a streaking Florida could be another shot for a loss. However, the best shot may be the Newton affair. If he gets declared ineligible, the wins get vacated and Auburn is out of the picture.

Would a one-loss team squeak in? LSU is loved by the computers. However, the squeaker wins make them hard to justify. (They should have had a loss to Tennessee...) The games against Louisiana-Monroe and Mississippi wont do much to help the computer rankings, while Arkansas could be a trap game. They also wont have the bump of the SEC championship game (unless Auburn loses its next two or gets disqualifies.)

Nebraska has Kansas and Colorado coming up which will hurt the computer rankings. The mediocre schedule and the loss to Texas should keep them out. The Big-12 championship game may help, but the quality of opponent would diminish the benefit. (Texas is out. Oklahoma would have two loses. Oklahoma State has only one loss, but doesn't have the street cred of the big boys.) A one-loss Oklahoma State would end with victories over Oklahoma and Nebraska. However, they would also be hard to justify over a no-loss Boise or TCU.

In the Big-10, Wisconsin, Michigan State and the Iowa-Ohio State winner could each end with one loss. However, they end the season on a whimper and wouldn't see much of a move.

Stanford has looked good this season, though the loss to Oregon probably keeps them out. Utah's loss to TCU ended their BCS dreams.

Odds are probably about 50/50 that one non-AQ makes it to the championship, and not much lower that we see two. Maybe that is just what we need to end this ugly system. (But then, what will college football fans argue over?)