Saturday, November 01, 2003

How I spent my Saturday
So today was the first major quizbowl tournament of the fall that I actually participated in (unlike WIT, two weekends ago, where I merely staffed). Now, the Berkeley team has been thriving lately; overall, we fielded five teams, each with a full complement of 4 team members. This was good! Of course, this also meant that we thus comprised 5/8 of the teams and 20/29 of the people, so a lot of the matches were intra-Berkeley matches. Still, it's a good way for the newbies to get tournament experience.

We figured if we concentrated all of the good players, then the newbie teams would just spend all of their time getting whomped; given that this tournament was 14 rounds and, total, took over 7 hours, this is not exactly a fun way to spend your day. So, instead, we spread the strength around -- with the exception of the Bastard Team, which had the two people not currently enrolled (Juliana and Ray), Nick, and David Farris (who just decided to play at the last minute). This had the very beneficial effect of making the overall field very even -- no team had fewer than 3 losses, and only one team (with 2 wins) had fewer than 5 wins. So, I certainly hope much fun was had by all.

Overall, my team was 5-9. That looks worse than it is, I think; we had three rounds which were decided on the last tossup, and we lost them all. I definitely was very streaky; there were some rounds where I did excellently, and there are some rounds (and some particular buzzes within those rounds) where I did poorly. The newbies on my team also acquitted themselves well, so that was definitely a good sign, especially since at Technophobia (next weekend) we are tossing them onto teams by themselves, since we figure it'll have to happen sooner or later and it'll be as good a tournament as any to start with.

Anyway, after a marathon like that, I think I could use some sleep.

Friday, October 31, 2003

Sports observation of the day
The economics of sports just keep getting weirder and weirder.

Basketball, with its odd soft salary cap, still leads the league in bizarre transactions for financial reasons. For example, this past offseason, the Atlanta Hawks participated in a trade in which they traded away someone who had scored more than 20 points per game for them that year (namely, Glenn Robinson), in order to obtain a player who was on the injured list with injuries that were likely to prevent him from ever playing again and had announced that he was retiring (Terrell Brandon), solely for the purpose of obtaining salary-cap space. (To be fair, the Hawks also did move up a bit in draft picks, but that part is unlikely to matter. All of the quotes from Atlanta officials indicated that they were interested primarily in obtaining the cap room.)

I believe at one point (though I don't remember enough details to find it via Google) that the Clippers, owned by notorious cheapskate Donald Sterling, once obtained some players in a trade which they then promptly waived, just in order to meet the salary floor. But I could be misremembering on that.

Now, baseball, despite not having any official salary caps and floors, has been seeing more and more economically-driven transactions of late. The Rockies, for example, practically gave away Mike Hampton just to be rid of his contract (hey, the faint voice in my mind is telling me that I already wrote something about this), but at least they got something in return. In general, teams trading away good players with overinflated contracts have gotten less back then if they had a reasonable contract, and bad players with big contracts are essentially of negative value in trade discussions, but it's not the case that a good player with an overinflated contract has actually been a negative.

Until now, that is. The Red Sox placed Manny Ramirez on irrevocable waivers on Wednesday, meaning that anyone willing to pick up the 5 years and $101.5 million left on his contract could have him without sending anything back to the Red Sox in return -- and no one was interested. Now, no one doubts that Ramirez is one of the top hitters in the league; he's been in the top 10 in MVP voting for five years running, and this year is extremely likely to be a sixth; it's just that no one wanted to pay that much money. Is that weird?

Well...maybe not as weird as it might seem at first glance. You see, at the end of 2000, Manny Ramirez was a free agent. Thus, when the Sox signed him, they were, pretty much by definition, the team that had the highest valuation of what his services were worth. So, given that Ramirez hasn't improved substantially over the past three seasons (not to say that he's been a disappointment, either; his production has pretty much been in line with reasonable expectations), it stands to reason that the Sox' valuation would still be higher than anyone else's; that is, that no one else would want to have him for the price that the Sox were paying him.

There's been a lot written about how free agency creates a "Winner's Curse", in that the team that signs a player in free agency is always the team that overestimates the player's value by the greatest amount, so I won't bother rehashing that, but I wonder if people realize that this is essentially the same thing, just three years later.
The die is cast
In other news, I went in and gave our landlord the obligatory written notice that we'll be moving out at the end of November, so I'm now officially committed to moving out. I'm hoping that the housing search will go somewhat more smoothly than the last time I did it (and was that really three years ago?!), especially since, well, I only have a month to find somewhere new.

The place itself I have no particular regrets about leaving; after all, you don't need me to tell you its negatives. If anything, I'm mostly annoyed that I didn't leave a while ago. However, finding somewhere new and then going through the whole process of actually moving there is still not something I'm looking forward to. So if you're reading this, it's highly likely I'm going to draft you to help me move at some point.
So, over the weekend, we were enjoying the proverbial Bay Area Indian Summer -- it more commonly is around in late September/early October, but I guess it was a little late this year, because all of a sudden it was nice and warm. Then, it just went away, and all of a sudden it's really cold. And today it was raining!

Boo. Lousy winter.

Thursday, October 30, 2003

And now, back to sports
Or more specifically, fantasy sports.

It might surprise you to learn that, for all of my baseball fanaticism, I've never actually played a season of real, old-fashioned fantasy baseball. Back in college, I used to play ESPN's Baseball Challenge regularly; in 1999 (I think), I was even dedicated enough to employ the tactic of changing my lineup every day to take advantage of matchups, Coors Field, doubleheaders, and so forth, which was enough to get me near the top, though I never got the extra burst of good fortune which would have put me in the top 50 or so. Of course, that way was less fun, since you never got emotionally attached to your players (although certainly, emotional attachment is usually a bad thing if what you're trying to do is win). There is, or at least was, Simbase, which was kind of an outlet for many of my fictional baseball needs, but it's nowhere close to fantasy ball.

This last year, I was dragged into Scoresheet, which is an excellent form of baseball, but it's also quite different. And, to be honest, this year was pretty boring after the draft -- it was readily apparent that the 37 good things that needed to happen for my team to contend weren't going to happen, so mostly I just prepared for next year and was careful not to trade Bret Boone for Chris Hammond because I needed to fill my hole in the bullpen. (Actually, this league is pleasantly free of insultingly bad trade proposals. Of course, it's largely free of trade proposals entirely, which is perhaps not as good.)

With Scoresheet firmly in its offseason, this means that the only fantasy league I'm currently involved in is the LZA, our long-term keeper fantasy basketball league. However, it seems like the fantasy basketball aspects of the LZA are dying (well, actually, have been dying for a while). By its very nature, the LZA requires pretty close involvement from its players to succeed. Being a keeper league naturally requires more care, since every transaction has to be evaluated not only by its impact on this season, but many seasons down the road. And the LZA is also an extraordinarily deep league -- the NBA has 29 teams, with each team having a 12-man active roster and 3 on IR. The LZA has 28 teams, with each team having a 15-man roster with 10 starters. This means that practically everyone in the NBA is going to be seeing playing time in the LZA, so you have to keep track of even the scrubbiest bench players if you're playing to win. When it started out, the LZA certainly drew that level of involvement, but now most people don't seem willing to keep up with it (and my own interest has been flagging over the past few years, too).

This means that, unless Simbase is unexpectedly resurrected sometime soon, it's likely that Scoresheet will be my only fantasy outlet. And that's just fine with me.
Usenet sociological note #25831
I still read a surprising amount of regular Usenet -- not as much as I did in past days, but probably still more than I ought -- but I still post very infrequently. Mostly, this is because I have to meet three criteria before I'll actually bother to post something:
1) No one else has said it
2) Saying it will actually be worthwhile
3) I know what I'm talking about
Mostly, this is because posts violating any of these three criteria irritate me immensely. Repeating what other people have already said (1) is annoying, arguing with trolls or idiots or other people who aren't going to change their mind (2) is really annoying, and getting something wrong that you can easily look up (3) is the most annoying of all.

Of course, given the volume and the nature of Usenet, the likelihood that something I want to say will pass these tests is quite low. So mostly I just content myself with absorbing information.
So apparently Matt either has much more persistence in checking my blog than I would, has an incredible sense of timing, or is watching me at work, since he managed to spot the fact that I had resumed posting here practically instantly. This, of course, eliminates my option to sneak away quietly if I decided I didn't have enough things to keep my recent spate of posting going. But perhaps that was Matt's devious plan all along...

Wednesday, October 29, 2003

Reopening old wounds
So, most of the time I'm a regular reader (though infrequent poster) at the Giants newsgroup (that's for those of you who care). Around playoffs, though, a combination of several factors (namely, increased volume, decreased quality, and very strongly decreased desire to read even more about what I had just seen altogether too much of) led to my abandoning the newsgroup. Well, being the compulsive type that I am, I can't just mark all those read and done with and move on to the new stuff; I feel the need to read all of it. It's not that much more pleasant to do so; time has dulled the horror of it all, but it still makes me tremendously disappointed.

It continues to appall me just how easily many of the people in the newsgroup wholeheartedly embraced rooting for the Marlins. I could never bring myself to do so, yes, even though their opposition was the Yankees -- it's at least more excusable to embrace the Marlins under such circumstances, but many of the people had chosen the Marlins before either of the League Championship Series were done, which is just awful, in my opinion. When a team crushes your dreams like that, in such excruciating fashion, I sure as hell am not going to turn around and root for them.

To tie another thread to this skein, it suddenly became cold around here, so I put on my 1997 NL West Champion sweatshirt. I will freely admit that in 1997, things were different. In 1997, the Giants were a surprise team -- no one expected them to do well, and merely making the playoffs was a delightful achievement, after eight years of drought with one particularly painful near-miss in the middle. Sure, I would have been ecstatic if they had managed to do well in the playoffs, but after such a wonderous season it wasn't hard to accept their playoff loss. Under those circumstances, I could have rooted for the Marlins, especially since their ownership hadn't yet been proven evil (though I did actually root for the Indians, since they were more deserving in my opinion, and also had Matt Williams). But the fundamental difference is expectations. In each of the Giants' last three playoff appearances, I've actually hoped that they could win the World Series, and so when they fall short, it's always a bitter disappointment.
Picking on everyone's favorite target
I nearly wrote this to Gregg Easterbrook himself, but decided that he'll probably have enough mail saying the same thing (so why, you might ask, do I feel the desire to post it here, when no one's even reading? Well, mostly as a therapeutic thing. Thanks for reading -- hey, where are you going?)

Anyway, the Easterblogg has this entry. For those of you too lazy to follow the link, he basically says that no one has a problem when science postulates all sorts of invisible, unseen dimensions, but if religion goes and theorizes that there's an unseen spiritual dimension, everyone will think that you're crazy.

Fundamentally, there are two big problems with this argument:
1) It is true, so far, that there is no experimental evidence to support the hypotheses of string theory (specifically, the ones about the number of dimensions lying around). This does not mean that scientists are blithely ignoring the need for experimental evidence sooner or later. Easterbrook references research by Maria Spiropolu; the specific article has made its way into the NYT archives, but other things I've read about her have indicated that what she's looking for is precisely that -- evidence of missing energy in certain reactions which could be explained by additional spatial dimensions in which particles could escape. A couple years ago, I went to a colloquium on possible experimental tests of string theory, and the place was packed. It's an issue of great interest, and to imply that physicists don't care about whether string theory can be verified or falsified is simply not the case. Most of the predictions of string theory, unfortunately, are currently well beyond our experimental reach, but as the theory matures and our experimental abilities (hopefully!) increase, the experimental tests will determine whether the theory enters the realm of generally-accepted scientific fact, or is relegated to the proverbial Dustbin of History.

2) To say that bringing up religion among scientists will get you "laughed out of the room" is patently not the case. It is true, however, that attempting to place religion on an equal footing with science will get you a fair share of scorn, and rightly so. Religion is not science, and by its fundamental nature it is extrascientific. It, by definition, can not ever be verified or tested using the scientific method. This is not to say that it is wrong to believe in it, just that such a belief can never be a scientific one.
Grr, argh
Just in time for Halloween, I'm going to attempt to resurrect this thing from the dead. Be warned, though, that my main motivation for this is a momentary quiet spell at work. I offer no guarantees that this motivation will persist, or even that I'll tell anyone about it. So there.