Superbowl Squares

As yet another service in my not a football blog, I’m going to talk about gambling a little bit, specifically the idea known as superbowl squares. What happens is, you have a ten by ten grid, “buy” a square within that grid for a certain amount of money (usually 5 or 10 dollars, however I’ve heard rumors of $100 per square or higher), then the each row and column has a digit between 0 and 9 randomly assigned to it, the rows represent one team and the columns another. Thus, each square has a value, for instance Patriots 2, Seahawks 9.

If, at the end of a quarter, the Patriots score ends in a 2 and the Seahawks score ends in a 9, that square wins, usually a quarter of the whole prize (so for $5 a square, the winner would get 125 (5×100/4).

So what numbers are the best ones? Lets assume several things.

1: Only touchdowns and field goals happen (ie, no safeties occur).

2: Touchdowns represent about 59% of all scores, field goals the rest.

3: Touchdowns are always worth 7 points (slightly unreasonable, touchdowns can be worth 6 or 8 points), and field goals are always worth 3 points (this one is true).

4: There are about 4 scores per team per game. (on average this is about right, but to truly do this you need not just the average information on the distribution of scores as well).

5: The score of one team has no effect on the score of the other team (again, this is false, a team trailing by 4 with 20 seconds to go, on a 4th and 20, is not going to kick a field goal, no matter what, a team trailing by 2 on a fourth down near the opponents end zone will absolutely kick a field goal).

6: The game can end in a tie (again, obviously false, and it should make all x-x numbers slightly less valuable)

The peculiar thing about football scores is that you can start a number line with 0, cycle through the numbers like this:

0, 3, 6, 9, 2, 5, 8, 1, 4, 7, 0

A field goal will move the active score one to the right, a touchdown one to the left. So a touchdown and a field goal will have no effect on the score. Then, all we need to do to get an estimate of the value of squares is as follows:

1: estimate the distribution of scores per quarter (I’ve set one up with a mode and average of 1 score per quarter, mostly normal distribution with a slight spike at 0 (to account for “negative” scores))

2: calculate the binomial distribution that within a given number of scores per quarter they will be touchdowns or field goals (so with 4 scores, 3 successes would be in excel =binomdist(4, 3, .59,false))

3: create a “tick” value for each scoring combination with field goals as +1 tick and touchdowns as -1 tick (so 4 scores, 1 touchdown would be a + 2 tick)

4: Multiply the probabilities in section 1 and section 2 together to get the probability of each scenario

5: Convert each “tick” value to its corresponding “point” value on the number line above, (so 0 becomes 0, 1 becomes 3, -2 becomes 4).

6: Total the probabilities associated with each point value

And you will get the probability of each end digit for the score for the end of each quarter. Multiplying them against each other gets the following grids:

End of First Quarter
0 7 3 4 6 1 9 8 5 2
0 21.05% 12.12% 8.37% 2.08% 0.99% 0.69% 0.23% 0.19% 0.09% 0.06%
7 12.12% 6.98% 4.82% 1.20% 0.57% 0.40% 0.14% 0.11% 0.05% 0.03%
3 8.37% 4.82% 3.33% 0.83% 0.39% 0.27% 0.09% 0.08% 0.04% 0.02%
4 2.08% 1.20% 0.83% 0.21% 0.10% 0.07% 0.02% 0.02% 0.01% 0.01%
6 0.99% 0.57% 0.39% 0.10% 0.05% 0.03% 0.01% 0.01% 0.00% 0.00%
1 0.69% 0.40% 0.27% 0.07% 0.03% 0.02% 0.01% 0.01% 0.00% 0.00%
9 0.23% 0.14% 0.09% 0.02% 0.01% 0.01% 0.00% 0.00% 0.00% 0.00%
8 0.19% 0.11% 0.08% 0.02% 0.01% 0.01% 0.00% 0.00% 0.00% 0.00%
5 0.09% 0.05% 0.04% 0.01% 0.00% 0.00% 0.00% 0.00% 0.00% 0.00%
2 0.06% 0.03% 0.02% 0.01% 0.00% 0.00% 0.00% 0.00% 0.00% 0.00%
End of Half
0 7 3 4 6 1 9 8 5 2
0 14.17% 8.09% 5.59% 4.12% 1.98% 1.96% 0.66% 0.64% 0.22% 0.21%
7 8.09% 4.62% 3.19% 2.36% 1.13% 1.12% 0.38% 0.36% 0.13% 0.12%
3 5.59% 3.19% 2.21% 1.63% 0.78% 0.77% 0.26% 0.25% 0.09% 0.08%
4 4.12% 2.36% 1.63% 1.20% 0.57% 0.57% 0.19% 0.19% 0.06% 0.06%
6 1.98% 1.13% 0.78% 0.57% 0.28% 0.27% 0.09% 0.09% 0.03% 0.03%
1 1.96% 1.12% 0.77% 0.57% 0.27% 0.27% 0.09% 0.09% 0.03% 0.03%
9 0.66% 0.38% 0.26% 0.19% 0.09% 0.09% 0.03% 0.03% 0.01% 0.01%
8 0.64% 0.36% 0.25% 0.19% 0.09% 0.09% 0.03% 0.03% 0.01% 0.01%
5 0.22% 0.13% 0.09% 0.06% 0.03% 0.03% 0.01% 0.01% 0.00% 0.00%
2 0.21% 0.12% 0.08% 0.06% 0.03% 0.03% 0.01% 0.01% 0.00% 0.00%
End of Third Quarter
0 7 4 3 1 6 8 9 5 2
0 9.92% 5.67% 4.62% 3.92% 2.36% 2.21% 1.16% 0.82% 0.43% 0.37%
7 5.67% 3.25% 2.64% 2.24% 1.35% 1.27% 0.66% 0.47% 0.25% 0.21%
4 4.62% 2.64% 2.15% 1.83% 1.10% 1.03% 0.54% 0.38% 0.20% 0.17%
3 3.92% 2.24% 1.83% 1.55% 0.94% 0.88% 0.46% 0.32% 0.17% 0.15%
1 2.36% 1.35% 1.10% 0.94% 0.56% 0.53% 0.28% 0.19% 0.10% 0.09%
6 2.21% 1.27% 1.03% 0.88% 0.53% 0.49% 0.26% 0.18% 0.10% 0.08%
8 1.16% 0.66% 0.54% 0.46% 0.28% 0.26% 0.14% 0.10% 0.05% 0.04%
9 0.82% 0.47% 0.38% 0.32% 0.19% 0.18% 0.10% 0.07% 0.04% 0.03%
5 0.43% 0.25% 0.20% 0.17% 0.10% 0.10% 0.05% 0.04% 0.02% 0.02%
2 0.37% 0.21% 0.17% 0.15% 0.09% 0.08% 0.04% 0.03% 0.02% 0.01%
End of Game
0 7 4 3 1 6 8 9 5 2
0 5.33% 4.31% 3.43% 2.98% 2.32% 1.65% 1.19% 0.82% 0.63% 0.43%
7 4.31% 3.48% 2.77% 2.41% 1.87% 1.33% 0.96% 0.66% 0.51% 0.35%
4 3.43% 2.77% 2.21% 1.92% 1.49% 1.06% 0.77% 0.53% 0.40% 0.28%
3 2.98% 2.41% 1.92% 1.67% 1.30% 0.92% 0.67% 0.46% 0.35% 0.24%
1 2.32% 1.87% 1.49% 1.30% 1.01% 0.72% 0.52% 0.36% 0.27% 0.19%
6 1.65% 1.33% 1.06% 0.92% 0.72% 0.51% 0.37% 0.25% 0.19% 0.13%
8 1.19% 0.96% 0.77% 0.67% 0.52% 0.37% 0.27% 0.18% 0.14% 0.10%
9 0.82% 0.66% 0.53% 0.46% 0.36% 0.25% 0.18% 0.13% 0.10% 0.07%
5 0.63% 0.51% 0.40% 0.35% 0.27% 0.19% 0.14% 0.10% 0.07% 0.05%
2 0.43% 0.35% 0.28% 0.24% 0.19% 0.13% 0.10% 0.07% 0.05% 0.03%

What can we learn?

The best numbers are 0, 7, 3 and 4, the worst are 5 and 2.

Numbers get more even the longer the game goes on, (this is born out by season ending statistics, which is essentially playing 64 quarters, as many teams have scores ending in 0 for the season (Giants with 380 and Arizona with 310) as have ending in 2, (Houston with 372 and Denver with 482)

Bad numbers are worse than good numbers are good. IE, 7-2 (one good number, one bad number), at the end of the game, is about as bad as 6-8 (two “ok” numbers). 0-2 (the best number and the worst number), is only marginally better than 1-9.

Even at the end of the game, only 33% of the numbers have positive expected payouts.

Pity to he who draws 2-2 (only .03% at the end of the game, which is possibly an overstatement, because the game cannot end in a tie).

Finally, I’d probably have done better to simply look at the scores at quarter end for each NFL game this year (or over multiple years) to get these probabilities, but I think my method has at least some value.


A nice place to visit

What is heaven like?

Well, I suppose we can start with our world, and start removing bad things. So, there are no natural disasters or diseases. Also, there’s no want, so everybody has everything they could imagine, we all have cars and houses and video game systems and great food and everything. We never age and we can eat all we want without getting fat.

I guess that when people think of heaven, that’s probably something of the picture that they get, a place where we get to spend all day doing what we want without any of the bad things.

But what I’ve just described isn’t heaven. In fact, other than the eating all you want part, there are some places on earth that are very similar. Think Beverly Hills, close to perfect weather, most people have a lot of stuff, and while there are of course old and sick people, but there are certainly those who are young and healthy enough that they don’t have to worry about death for quite some time. Can we say that those people are in heaven? While many of us might like to live in Beverly Hills, I don’t think that anyone thinks its perfect. And it’s not like it would be heaven except for the cloudy days or occasional earthquake. People there still have problems, they still get angry, divorced, and can become miserable, just like anyone else.

Just ask yourself the question, how rich do you need to be to be continually happy? That is, of course, a purposely bad question, it doesn’t have an answer and everyone knows it. A world like I described, it might be a nice place to visit, but its not heaven.

What then, can we say about how heaven will be like? Simple, not only is there not natural disaster and disease, all the shiny toys you could want, but something else. There would have to be no crime, no conflict, no jealousy and no hate. In heaven, we can never harm each other. In short, Heaven must have no sin.

So how to accomplish this? Well, maybe we could just make it so that our actions are incapable of harming others, a rubber room if you will. Or maybe just lobotomize everyone, make us all drooling, but happy, idiots. Again, neither of these sound like heaven to me.

What God has in store for us is totally separating us from our sins, making it so that we cannot sin. But God will not do so on his own, without our consent. Doing so would just be rubber rooming us or lobotomizing us, neither of which are God’s plans. No, in order for us to have our sins removed, we must do two things.

First, we must want our sins removed from us. It has to be our choice. (of course, when I say that its our choice, its not our work. That is, being really good, while we might be able to sin 50% less, well, it won’t make a lick of difference in eternity. Even if we sin only once every thousand years, over eternity that sin will build up enough to overwhelm us, and totally demolish heaven. And think what will come when, instead of sinning once every thousand years, we sin about as much as we do on earth, ie constantly. So even if it is our choice to have sin removed from us, it is not us doing the removing).

Secondly, we must replace that sin with something else. We sin because we think too highly of ourselves and put ourselves above others. Or we sin because we want something that won’t make us happy. Or we sin because we think we alone know what is right; and take it into our own hands. Overall, we sin because we are putting something else where Christ should be. So to remove this sin, we put Christ into where the sin was.

For those unwilling to put Christ first, well, they have no choice but to live in sin. And an eternal life plagued with sin is a horrible thing. So God doesn’t allow it. Sin over eternity would be unbearable: the wages of Sin is Death.


It seems like there’s been a big split in the video game business as of late. One the one hand, there are the expensive gigantic games, commonly referred to as triple A, these include the Call of Duties, Grand Theft Autos and Elder Scrolls, among others. On the other hand, are the independent games, commonly found on Steam, such as FTL or Spelunky. Arguably, the most popular game right now is Minecraft, which certainly isn’t a AAA game, even if its now owned by Microsoft is very much in spirit an independent game.

Now the best games have one of the following things in common, they are either

a: primarily played against other people (most First person shooters, also real time strategy games)

b: they are primarily setting based (most RPGs fall into this category, but also Grand Theft Autos)


c: they are mainly gameplay based (puzzle games, but I’ll go into more detail later)

I’m going to mainly skip over type a as I have nothing interesting to say about it; so let me jump into type b:

For setting based games, the main draw is viewing and interacting with the environment; take one of my favorites, Fallout 3. In it, you emerge from a fallout shelter, which was a perfectly self contained society, into a big, scary post apocalyptic wasteland. As you journey, you both find out more about society, the new divisions (humans, super-mutants, ghouls), explore the ruins of society (such as the Washington monument and the Pentagon, but also mundane things such as schools and supermarkets), you experience the world (Fallout has a great theme based on 50’s music, art, culture and even paranoia) and your character also changes, becomes more powerful and more able to face challenges, affect her surroundings, and generally kick ass. In several ways its artificial (relying primarily on your character stats and items), and in several ways its natural (you as a player become better at dealing with and responding to situations through gameplay).

Another example is the Dragon Age games. (its been a while since I’ve played, so forgive me if my memory isn’t exactly correct). Dragon Age Origins is basically a standard RPG, you choose race (Elf, Dwarf, Human), class (Fighter, Rogue, Mage), and “background” (like noble human or wood elf), but the backstory doesn’t matter that much. You start out weak, and get strong through leveling up your characters and getting powerful items. Basically, if you like RPGs, you’ll like Dragon Age origins. Anyway, so at the beginning of the game, I as a player was naturally roleplaying, I was very scared to go to places in the game which I thought would be dangerous. By the end of the game, I felt like a badass and just walked into the enemy’s HQ. Basically, the decisions I made in the game reflected the decisions my character naturally would have made in the same situations, which creates the feel of immersion and makes for a pretty good experience.

(As an aside, this is why I hated Elder Scrolls 4, the enemies leveled up as you did, which totally ruins the immersion.  There’s no reason that would ever happen in real life, and knowing that anywhere you went the enemies would be as strong as you were meant that deciding where to go wasn’t an important choice, which instantly changed the world from interesting to boring. Furthermore, the way the game leveled up, if you made the wrong decisions on what stats to level up, the game basically became impossible, so the choices you make are about min-maxing, not about making decisions within the context of the world or in what your character would do.)

The problem with these immersion games is a simple one, death. You can’t die permanently in these games because doing so and restarting the game would mean that either you would never get to explore all areas, or the game would be so easy as to present no challenge. So, of course, these games let you save and reload (or “respawn”) at previous locations so you don’t have to start over each time you are killed.

Of course, this starts to break the immersion, you are essentially immortal, which means that beating the game is only a matter of putting enough time into it. This gives us a conundrum, you can’t make a game too big and still have permanent death as there would be no point to creating all that content if most players would never see it, and with the ability to save and reload, there’s not much incentive for the player to master the game, not when any challenge can be met purely by repeating it over and over again. So what to do about games where skill is the point?

Enter the roguelike. A long time ago (1980 to be exact), there was a game that used only asci graphics, you know either letters or things like $ # !, it was called Rogue. I won’t go too far into it, but it introduced two basic mechanics, randomly (or in nerd talk, procedurally) generated levels, and permanent death. There have been any number of games with those two characteristics, and they can make a game great.

A recent favorite of mine is call FTL, in it, you command the crew of a spaceship, it plays like an RPG in that you crew “levels up” (individuals can get more competent at tasks such as piloting or hand to hand combat), you buy or find new weapons and enhancements. But because its relatively short (it probably takes 2 hours to finish a winning campaign) and because death is almost always a threat and almost everything you do has repercussions throughout the game, even “routine” fights and somewhat normal decisions carry with them urgency and importance. Deciding which armor to buy in Skyrim, for instance, might make a little bit of difference, but it won’t define the rest of the game. Choosing what weapons to buy in the beginning of FTL may be the difference at the end boss.

To use another example, I’ve been playing a game called “Spelunky,” in it you play an Indiana Jones type explorer descending deep into a cave. You find treasure, items which help you, enter stores and the like. Anyway, the game, oddly enough for a game mentioned in a blog post about randomly generated levels and permanent death, has randomly generated levels and permanent death. This leads to two exciting aspects of gameplay. First, the whole game presents a challenge; you are pretty much forced to treat the whole game world as a dangerous place; this leads to excitement. Secondly, because the game is randomly generated, you can’t anticipate what will come next, which means that you won’t just memorize locations or timing, you deal with situations not as you’ve memorized them but by figuring everything out as you go; you know, just like in real life.

These games are commonly made by independent studios, with repeating art and text, a team of only a few can make a great game. As these teams don’t have to earn back a huge development cost, they can introduce novel and risky game play ideas. I expect he future of the gaming industry to continue to be pushed by these smaller and riskier developers.

An objectively bad sport

The Superbowl is this weekend, and I thought I would go slightly off topic by discussing why I think football is the worst sport (of course, since this is the second post about football and this blog isn’t even a week old yet, you could say that the topic of this blog is more about football than anything else, but rest assured, after the Superbowl (and potentially its aftermath) I won’t be making any more football posts for some time). Of course, it’s not a sport that I hate; the only sport I hate is hockey which I think I’ve watched about 2 hours of in my entire life and through accidents or whatever, will probably watch 2 more hours before I die, and none of those 4 hours will be spent at all well. But, even though I hate hockey, it’s not an objectively bad sport; people like it and I understand why people like it.

Soccer is another sport which deep down I don’t really like. Every four years we in America get excited about the World Cup, and then very soon forget that soccer is a thing. And while I do like following the world cup, it’s mainly for two reasons:

1: I get to spend a lot of energy looking at a whole bunch of scenarios involving teams getting out of group play and
2: I get a totally appropriate occasion to really think about whether I like Bolivia or Portugal more, and that’s something I enjoy doing.

But I don’t actually really care about the sport on the field so much; again, like hockey, its not really my thing, but I understand why people like it. In fact, the last thing I want to do with this post is make anybody feel that I think I’m superior for not watching soccer. Soccer is a beautiful, wonderful, and simple game. If anything, if you are a soccer fan, you should feel superior to me, for I kind of like football, a game which I’m arguing is objectively bad.

The first reason that football is a bad sport is the fact that, even though its a team sport, the great majority of its value comes from a single position. The quarterback is (at least at the pro level and in recent history) the most important position in the sport, by a huge margin. If you were to list the top players in the game almost all of them would be quarterbacks.

Don’t take my word for it, look at the perceptions of NFL GMs.

Of the 15 highest paid players, a full 11 of them are QBs including 9 of the top 10 and the overall top 6 (mind you this should be even more impressive because there are only 32 starting QBs in all of football, and some of them are only off the list because they are still on rookie contracts (such as Andrew Luck and Russell Wilson)). The fate of your quarterback is in many ways the fate of your team; the last team to win the Superbowl with a “bad” quarterback was in the 2003 Superbowl when Brad Johnson and Tampa Bay won.

Other sports have similar situations where a single player can swing the course of a season; think Michael Jordan for instance, he had a larger impact on the NBA landscape in the 90’s than probably any quarterback ever. The difference isn’t that players can’t dominate in basketball (probably in the same way as with other sports such as hockey and soccer, though I must confess I’m not familiar enough with them to really write intelligently about), it’s that it isn’t tied to a position. Micheal Jordan was the best player ever, and he happened to be shooting guard. The second best player (by my estimation Bill Russell, but pick whoever you want) isn’t going to be a shooting guard (unless you picked Kobe Bryant, which is a really weird pick for the second best player ever. But even if you do think Kobe is the second best player ever (and if you do, I’m going to guess you live in LA and are too young to remember Magic Johnson) the third best player isn’t going to be a shooting guard).

The two best NBA players right now are LeBron James and Kevin Durant, who by coincidence both happen to be small forwards. If you happened to get them both on the same team, well, you wouldn’t bench one, you’d just move one to shooting guard (or power forward or whatever), and then dominate the game unlike anyone has before (assuming the rest of your team is at least mediocre, also assuming that they can learn to play to each others strengths, etc.  Even it if wouldn’t actually work because of some nuance of basketball I don’t understand, the basic point is that its very easy to imagine a situation in Basketball or Baseball or Rugby or whatever where having the two best players is a very good thing). The two best players in the NFL are, by my count, Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady. If you had both of them on the same team, well, you’d bench one. Yeah, I guess that having Tom Brady come out if (or when) Rodgers gets injured would be nice, but it wouldn’t be a big help. If you had both on your team, you’d trade one for a JJ Watt or a Ron Gronkowski in an instant. If you have only one, you wouldn’t trade them for anybody but each other. Think about it, there are probably only a handful of quarterbacks who you’d ever consider playing at another position (Michael Vick a few years ago and an uninjured Robert Griffin III come to mind). For just about any other sport, a great player at a position is at the very least a good player in at least one other position.

The biggest exception to this is baseball, where the pitcher as a position has an even great role in the team’s success than the quarterback does in football, and good pitchers rarely become good position players (Babe Ruth of course is the exception). But with baseball no one pitcher can handle the full load; just about every team has 5 starting pitchers and numerous backups, so while the position as a whole has disproportionate impact, a team can’t ride a single good pitcher to the championship, nor will its season (necessarily) be derailed by an injury to a single pitcher.

So now I’m sure you’re saying, well, Mr. Gallant Tiger, all of that may be true, but it isn’t necessarily an argument, it may indicate why football is unique, but not uniquely bad. Well, I’m glad you asked; (actually, I’m not glad, it makes writing this much harder. Also, you didn’t ask that, I did, so the previous statement is totally false).

Lets highlight this by looking at an example. Take the Packers; they’re a generally good team who, because they have the best quarterback, are a perennial Superbowl contender. But there are other players (JJ Watt comes to mind) who are better at their jobs than Rodgers is at his, but because their jobs are less important, they aren’t considered as valuable. This leads to us as viewers and consumers of football, to care less about a player at tight end or left tack having a truly great season than a player at quarterback having merely an above average one. Football trains us to view good players at quarterback more highly than historic players anywhere else, which certainly offends my sense of what sport should be about.

However, this isn’t the only reason, or even the main reason that Football is a bad sport. Football is an inferior sport in the number and nature of its rules. The official NFL rule book clocks in 95 pages of rules (you can read it here).  Compare it to the 17 rules of soccer  and you can see that one is much simpler. Even the official FIFA rulebook , although similar length to the NFL rulebook; looks completely different. It has large font, diagrams, and generally looks like something that a fan might actually read; or want to read to get a better understanding of the game. The NFL rulebook looks like it was written by and for lawyers. It has the same format and purpose as a contract, not to provide explanation but to provide justification (seriously, take some time to look at it. “Touching Free Kick (a) See 6-1-4-c and 6-2-4 for touching a free kick”).

This isn’t just about the size of the rulebook; look at how the NFL web of rules affects your viewing experience. There are multiple times a game when the announcers or color commentators have to explain a rule to the fans, not because the fans are dumb, but because there’s really no expectation that the average fan would know all the rules. Of course, these
explanations are given not only because they’re obscure, but because often the fate of the game depends upon the
interpretation of some obscure rule. Think about how often this happens in other sports: basically never (baseball has
a rulebook which is probably even bigger than footballs, but it seems very rare that there are decisions which involve obscure rules. In fact, most of the time the obscure rules are there specifically not to be noticed. For instance, the infield fly rule is basically a rule which prevents the defense from gaining an advantage by intentionally dropping a ball, as a result of the infield fly rule defenders never intentionally drop the ball and therefore we never see the infield fly rule every actually in play, ie, the rule streamlines the game).

Entire games can be described by a rule – every football fan old enough knows what the “Tuck Rule” game was; and I almost guarantee you that, if not for that game, 1 football fans in 10 could tell you what the Tuck rule actually is (in fact, I bet that there are more fans who could tell you about the “Tuck Rule Game” than about the tuck rule itself).

This is combined and compounded with the other great evil of football, the penalty flag. You know the experience, you’re watching some giant play unfold, which alters the course of the game, but suddenly, the yellow “flag” marker appears beneath the network scoreboard. Somebody had a penalty, and depending on the penalty, the giant play didn’t either did or didn’t actually happen. So you’re waiting for the referee to announce whether the play, which you just saw, didn’t actually take place because of a holding call. This of course combines with the rules mentioned above to get stupid results, a play is called back (or its alternative, a play (usually a pass) that didn’t happen is ruled to have happened because of a penalty), and then the announcers explain this is based on a rule that the casual (or even dedicated fan) knows nothing about; we’re watching sport that by its very nature makes it difficult to understand.

Of course, the NFL wasn’t satisfied with this stupidity, it had to invent a whole new way to slow the game down and move the action off of the field and into the decision of a referee. It introduced challenges. So now, whenever a coach wishes, they can “challenge the ruling on the field,” at this point the officials then go and look at videotape of the event in question to determine what actually happened. Now, I’m all for instant replay to determine calls, but I wouldn’t call the NFL’s version instant. Instead, they do the dumbest possible thing where they have a referee look into a video screen underneath some sort of hood to ensure secrecy, after all you wouldn’t want everyone to see the same replays that they’re showing on network television. Compare that to the replay for tennis. Tennis has a replay system, where it uses triangulated cameras to determine the exact location of balls or something, but I can’t really talk too much about it for the very reason that it isn’t noticable. It improves the quality of the calls, but doesn’t detract at all from the viewing experience; in fact by being an official arbiter, it can make the gameplay smoother and less prone to interruption. (to its credit, the NFL is trying to reduce the time it takes an official to make a call by having the ref talk to people viewing the game in New York, but the process is still longer than it needs to be and it took them 15 years to figure this out).

Once a football official returns from the super secret viewing booth on the field, he will announce to the stadium the result of his ruling. And, depending on whether the ruling favors the home team or not, the crowd will go nuts. If you need any more reason to think that football is objectively bad, in football, the biggest cheers go to rule interpretations, not feats of athleticism.

Crowd Sourcing and Risk Reduction

By now I’m sure that everyone has heard of Kickstarter and all the wonderful inventions and games and potato salad that it is responsible for. It’s really quite a cool idea, allowing people who would otherwise go without funding to generate unique creative content outside of the existing system (whether that system is video game studios or movie studios or whatever); giving rise to unique new things such as the “Cooler cooler” or the Oculus Rift (which raised about 2 and a half million dollars from Kickstarter, then sold to Facebook for about 2.3 billion dollars (not a typo, that’s billion with a “B”)).

Now, removing the barrier between the content creators (or artists, if you will) and the consumers is nice, but there is real potential for the crowdsourcing model that isn’t just about giving content creators the freedom to work on what they want to.

One of the longest running and most popular Anime series in Japan is “Detective Conan” (sometimes called “Case Closed” in the US). As far as stories go, it’s fairly simple, every episode there’s some sort of crime (almost always a murder), and its up to teenage detective Jimmy Kudo, (who was of course transformed into a boy detective named Conan Edogawa; don’t ask, its anime) to solve it, with the help of his karate trained not-quite girlfriend Rachel and her bumbling private detective father Richard. While solving these crimes, Conan inches ever closer to uncovering the series spanning mystery about the evil organization which turned him into a kid. So far there have been over 750 episodes and 19 feature films, to put that in perspective thats about 200 more than the Simpsons, which I think debuted during the Reagan administration. Or to look at it another way: lets assume that there’s been about 1 murder per episode (some episodes have none, some have 2, some have one over two episodes), so 750 murders total. The characters don’t seem to age so we can assume the series takes place over two years, three at most. According to this there are 442 murders a year. That means that, in this fictional universe, virtually every murder in Japan is solved by the same boy detective.

Of the 750ish episodes, only about 130 have been translated into English, which for me is a very disappointing, Funimation (one of the largest distributors of anime in America) has determined either that it won’t make money or won’t make enough money or that it’s too big of a risk. Of course I won’t second guess them, I have no idea how many potential customers there are, and although I would pay more for more content, I don’t know if enough other people would do the same.  So if we want to watch Conan Edigawa solve more murders, we’ve got to learn Japanese.

One of the ways to look at Kickstarter is a shift of risk from the producers to the consumers. Instead of putting up a lot of money to create something and hoping that there are enough customers to make the money back, they get pre-commitment from customers. Instead, its the customers who are taking the risk (there’s no guarantee that the producer will even finish the product let alone that the product will be a good one).

But its not just a shift of risk, there is a reduction in the total amount of risk. Looking at Detective Conan, if Funimation were to do a kickstarter to translate the next 100 episodes, there would be no risk. The consumers know the product they’re getting (they already have 100 episodes to view before deciding whether to pledge), Funimation knows how much it will cost to localize the product (they’re in the business of localization, and while there may be some overruns, that can’t be that many), all they have to do is set the correct target to raise funds and the only thing that can go wrong is not hitting the target in which case they don’t proceed and neither the consumer or the producer is any worse off than they are right now. (This also has the added benefit of absolutely killing piracy because no matter how good you are at hacking, you can’t pirate a DVD that hasn’t been made yet).

I don’t know why this doesn’t happen more, having existing companies use Kickstarter as a way to raise money, but more as a way to sell a high-fixed cost low marginal cost product in a risk-free way. I’ve got a few ideas:

1: It goes against the ethos of the site; people got very mad at Zach Braff for raising money at Kickstarter (which I think points out idiotic people can be)

2: You’re kind of not supposed to make a profit on it; that is there’s the assumption that any money raised in Kickstarter will be put back into the product (again, people are looking at Kickstarter as a replacement for raising capital, not as a replacement for selling something)

3: Kickstarters may be largely funded by big donations; people putting down $100 or $200 or more; which is unlikely to happen if the two above criteria are met.

I don’t know why this doesn’t happen more, (perhaps its only a matter of time), but I’m hoping that it will soon.

Of Flowers and Man

Imagine you are a visitor to a primitive society. And lets say that, for whatever reason, you are treated as something of a magician, or wise man, not quite a God, but just because you’re an outsider you are treated very specially and definitely listened to.

Now lets say that the religion, or superstition if you will, of the people involves sacrifices to the weather god or gods (or goddesses or whatever, its not important), in the hopes of bringing favorable weather. Let us also suppose that the great divide between the society is two camps, one of which believes that humans should be sacrificed, the other that flowers should be sacrificed. There’s quite a bit of rhetorical fighting between the two sides as they argue about which is correct.

Furthermore, lets say that the position in favor of human sacrifice is generally considered more correct (the society is divided about 60-35-5 for Human, Flower, and everybody else factions respectively), and (in what is of course a totally unlikely development), the society, although quite primitive in their understanding of weather, has developed advanced statistical methods, and the standard regression seems to re-inforce the human sacrifice position. For the sake of argument (of course, granting that this whole example, if not whole blog, is for nothing but the sake of argument, as nothing like this is obviously some sort of analogy that I hope is going somewhere), the popular regression compares rainy days per time period with human sacrifices in the same period, and that the formula is something like:

Number of Rainy Days = Constant + A (number of sacrifices) + B (Season)

Where season is a dummy variable on whether its the rainy season.   A has the right (in this case positive) sign on it, and is statistically significant, but only at the 10% level. (I know there’s probably a lot of ways you can attack this regression and there are any number of scenarios which are non-causal but may lead to this relationship, for instance, perhaps the society is more likely to sacrifice when rain seems likely, such as on cloudy days, but I’m already spending way too much time on analyzing an argument that doesn’t actually exist so I’m not going to put any more effort into trying to make the mathematics behind an imaginary regression analysis more sound).

The human sacrificers don’t like human sacrifice per se (ie, they have no attachment to it outside of the fact that they think it brings rain), but they argue that the small number of lives lost due to the sacrifice are a tiny cost compared the large number of lives saved by the better weather.

The question posed to you as an outsider is, which faction do you support, those who would sacrifice humans, or those who would sacrifice flowers? Even though, from the viewpoint of the people involved, the human sacrificers have the better case, I would absolutely argue for the flower faction, not because I think they are more likely to be correct (in fact I think that neither action would have any effect on the weather), but because the costs of flower sacrificing are much smaller.

The point is that we often view arguments and debates on which side we find to be more likely to be right, without taking the entirety of the decision making process. We can do similar things. If we think that there is a 51% chance that our flight will crash, we absolutely will not get on it. But if we revise our estimates to think that there is only a 49% chance that our flight will crash, well, we still won’t get on it. I don’t know what the tipping point is, but its probably something well below a single percent (humans, myself included, are very bad at interpreting very low probabilities, so we’d probably do something like put the odds at 1 in a thousand justify getting on the plane, when in reality they shouldn’t, but I’m on a tangent).

The original argument that I was thinking of regarding the flowers vs the human sacrifices is of Keynsian Economics vs Monetarism (or market monetarism, or Chicago school, or whatever); that is should we, at the zero interest rate bound, use government deficit spending Fed Open Market purchases to stimulate the economy? My guess is that they’re probably both equally wrong, but the Keynsian process is more costly, so I tend to support the less costly option. If in fact, you do believe that Keynsianism works, than by all means support it, but the question you should be asking isn’t “what economic theory is most likely to be correct,” the question should be “What is the probability that Keysnianism is effective” and then have some sort of bar from which you would support it. The question of “what is most likely to be correct” is a perhaps useful for academics for determining what to study, but not for which policy to support.

(this post is an analogy: I’m not trying to actually compare Keynsian economics to human sacrifice).

The Deflation Analogy

So the world, or at least the US, is a buzz with the great issue of the day, which is of course “Deflategate.” What disappoints me most about this whole thing is that we will forever use the suffix “-gate” to describe every single scandal, which I think is stupid; but alas, nothing on earth, save for the extermination of the human race, or perhaps we’ll start running out of beginning words (although that is unlikely) will stop it. Its here to stay.

But I digress. So the issue, for those wonderful readers who exist in some corner of the universe that isn’t following the scandal closely, perhaps you are from Asia, or perhaps you are from some point in the future after where deflategate is a distant memory, which is probably something stupidly soon, like three weeks from the time of this writing, is that the football team (and don’t get me started on football vs soccer, the name of the sport where you kick a round ball into a net and aren’t allowed to use your hands is called “Soccer” in the US, Canada, South Africa, Australia New Zealand and Ireland, or in other words, just about the entire English speaking world except England) the New England Patriots had, in the first half of their semifinals against the Indianapolis Colts, played with under-inflated footballs, which is against the rules and supposedly gave them an advantage. A couple of notes, as of this writing, nobody knows how the balls became under-inflated or who if anyone did it. Also, it seems unlikely that the deflation had any real effect on the outcome of the game, after the end of the first half, the Patriots (playing with under-inflated footballs) outscored the Colts 17 to 7, after the second half, (playing with normal footballs), the Patriots outscored the Colts 28 to 0.

Now of course everyone who follows this quickly began their two favorite pastimes, heavy-handed moralizing and making up lame excuses. So I thought I would share some of my wonderful wisdom in the form of a strained analogy.

Imagine you were teaching a class, and you caught a student cheating; say having an illegal “cheat sheet” on him. Only the student was already a grade A student, and the cheat sheet didn’t actually have any information relevant to the test on it, and the student got an A anyway. Do you still punish the student. I think that absolutely you do, the student attempted to cheat using a method he knew was wrong, that there was no real advantage conferred is irrelevant, cheating is still cheating.

Only I don’t think that this is the correct analogy. A more suitable one is that you have a group project, a team of five students are assigned to write a paper. Now lets say that, when grading it, you determine that one of the paragraphs had been plagiarized. The rest of the paper was solid, and removing the paragraph wouldn’t change your opinion of the paper (obviously, excepting the part about plagiarism). During your investigation, you can’t tell which student added the paragraph, and its your honest opinion none of the students (except the guilty one) knew who added it (I realize that this may strain credulity; maybe you can assume that they were operating under a shared document with no version tracking). Finally, while you were able to identify the fact that the paragraph in question was plagiarized, its only because you are a professor in the field, you wouldn’t expect any of the students to be able to identify it.

The question is do you punish the students? In order for there to be culpability, you need either intent or negligence. None of the students (besides the guilty one) had any intention of plagiarism; and none was negligent as it would take knowledge that nobody would expect them to have (as students aren’t expected to have the same knowledge as professors, because then why take the class). If you were to punish all 5 students, chances are you would be punishing 4 innocent students and one guilty one; which I don’t believe is just.

Now, of course, no analogy is perfect, and we’re assuming that we won’t learn anything new or that the NFL doesn’t have information that we aren’t privy to. (As a final aside, is there anybody who thinks that the NFL knows what they’re doing?).

(So one of the reasons I’m starting this blog is to be better at writing, and one of the things I think I’m bad at is ending stuff. So insert good ending here!)