Sunday, August 30, 2009

The concept of retrodiction

The term retrodiction is related to the word prediction in obvious ways. What does it mean to predict the past?

It usually refers to a model that is tested by applying it to the past. It is run with past data to see if it could correctly predict past events.

I think there is value in this concept of retrodiction. It is important to look at the past and see if the results make sense based on what we know. It typically is easy but that is handicapped by a cognitive bias where we think past events and conclusions seem obvious in retrospect. Take these last years in the NBA playoffs. The Lakers were the best of the West. Their series with the Rockets was unusual but was never very close. Just like the Celtics seven game series against the Hawks in 2008, the result was never really in question.

In the East though, it gets curious. The Cavs were the #1 seed but didn't match up physically with the Magics athletic shooters and center. The Cavs weren't made to beat the Celtics; they were made to beat the Pistons! Hell yeah! Awesome insight!! They were based on plodding bigmen, a slow wingman (Rasheed Wallace), etc. And the Magic came out with a super athletic Center and a wingman who could shoot and drive. And Varejao and Ilgauskas were abused!


The End of the Rich Rodriguez Experiment in Michigan

Today I read on as well as at that Michigan players were alleging NCAA rules violations at Michigan perpetrated by the coach, Rich Rodriguez. This is a very bad sign for Rich Rodriguez.

I'm sure that every football team breaks NCAA rules to some extent. But the majority of these infractions are never made public. And of those that do reach the public's ear, even fewer are reported by the players.

This is especially embarassing for Michigan because it shows there is virtually no solidarity amongst the team and some strong resentment and dislike for the coach. A team that is divided like this can't succeed.

I also recall reading earlier that a Michigan tackle, who was expected to help the team immensely this year, opted to transfer to Ohio State. Ohio State and Michigan for the top rivalry in the Big Ten and one of the biggest college football rivalrys in the nation.

The aforementioned tackle left because he no longer felt Coach Rodriguez and his staff embraced the family values of Michigan football and what it had come to mean over the years.

This is terrible news for Coach Rodriguez. I wouldn't be surprised if he was fired before the season ended. Despite arriving amidst tremendous hype and excitement, he seems to have alienated the players and worn out his welcome. A coach can't coach and certainly can't thrive when his players are openly (albeit anonymously) behaving mutinously.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Other Writing Tidbits


Creating artificial intelligence. Experimenting with molds and funguses. Growing molds and funguses. Fear, anxiety and paranoia. Advanced maths. Not knowing if an AI is real or just imagined. AI that is more god-like and understanding. Compare differences in perception between what people thought a computer would be like versus what it could actually do and translate that to current fears about AI.

People as "dragons" who keep growing until their deaths.

Literary Thoughts

I think a major part of an enjoyable movie, film, or book that is primarily a story telling venture is its desire to explore certain topics or simply show lots of awesome scenes and situations, one after another. To put forth crazy ideas and concepts, situations, people, constructions, and machines that are larger than life.

I like the term "random hero". I'd also want to explore the differences between "wild" animals and people vs. "domesticated" or "civilized" people. The concept of vengeance and terrible loss; then the process of trying to come back from that. There are many, many things that would be fun to explore. I also play out many of these concepts in my head in the form of movies. Its one thing to simply project images on a movie screen in my head. Its another to convey it through print to another person. Two totally different tasks.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Brett Favre Hat Trick

Brett Favre has done it again, coming out of retirement to join a club right before the season begins. And I think that it is a genius - but unintentional- move by Brett. First off he will be in the same division as the Packers, for whom he played for many years.

So he knows his opponents quite well. But with Brett Favre, the added benefit is that he will be joining a team and creating a lot of excitement and motivation. I've written before about events providing a serious energy and motivation jolt for a team. Notably, Mike Singletary becoming the head coach of the 49ers midway through last season and simply preaching effort and hustle.

With Brett Favre joining the team, everything will be amped up and done more energetically. There will be a real sense of hope and optimism. And that helps players practice and perform better.

So while his quarterbacking skills provide an upgrade, the sense of possibility will provide another bonus in terms of improved practice and player energy.

Lastly, I think that this team wide sense of energy helps players come back from injury faster and get sick less often. These are known benefits of people who are happier and more optimistic. It stands to reason that a greater sense of possibility will take players who are marginal and put them firmly on the side of enthusiastic and giving that extra bit of preparation. And in a 60 minute football game, it can often hinge on the most unlikely of players involved in the most unlikely of plays.

Monday, August 17, 2009

All things sports

Today I shot a legitimate 83 at the Naval Base. The 83 included no mulligans, no do overs, no improved lies, no balls thrown onto the fairway from behind a tree, and no picked-up putts. I've been keeping a golf notebook where I write about how I played, what happened, how to improve, etc. Its been very helpful and I've definitely improved faster because of it.

I've also heard about some football quarterbacks who do this, notably the Manning brothers and Tom Brady. They keep extensive notes of what happens both in practice and in competition, and it shows. They have five super bowl championships between them.

I recently also read about how Michael Vick claims to have been "the last to arrive and the first to leave" practices and team meetings when he played for the Falcons. Michael Vick has not won or even appeared in a Super Bowl.

There are obviously many things that go into a championship in any sports. And one of them is certainly the realization that talent alone will not win a championship at the highest level. There will eventually be other players in the field or match or game that are equally as talented and are also trying harder.

There is a certain "championship" mentality. I think Kobe Bryant has it. He berates team mates to get better, expects improvement, expects clutch performance. At times he demands it. This mentality drives some people away, notably Shaq, but also many lesser players like Smush Parker, Kareem Rush, Gary Payton, etc.

Kevin Garnett is also a standard setter and enforcer. He loves to practice, loves to set the bar high and then see if anyone can exceed it. Garnett is a champion.

To improve, to succeed, to win, one must really embrace all facets of competition: practicing, mental preparation, and competition. Lacking any one these things represents a flaw that will eventually be exploited.

We often don't know the true persona of a team until it has passed; until the heat has been turned up high and we see what they are made of. If they succeed then we look back for tiny clues of their future success. If they fail then suddenly there appears a million hints, a million reasons.

Does LeBron has this? I don't know. What has he done to expand his game?

Friday, August 14, 2009

Anxiety and Depression

I was golfing yesterday and stopped my cart over a small creek to search for a ball I hit into it. Immediately a turtle jumped into the creek and scurried into the deepest part of the water, hidden below the murky water. This turtle was scared of me, running for its life. And the funny part was, I didn't even see it before it fled. It already is covered from head to tail in dirt, is quite small, and was sitting motionless.

Yet despite all this it didn't hesitate to run for more cover and protection at the sight of me.

It got me thinking about how anxious this turtle must be, sitting there fearfully on the bank of the creek, getting some sun and warmth. At the first sign of possible danger it flees!

If this turtle were a human, it would have a huge anxiety disorder. It would be the over protective mother, or the germ-ophobe. The woman who has agoraphobia, arachnaphobia, or any other phobia known to every doctor in the world.

But this turtle is a survivor! Its more likely to survive because of its constant paranoia.

And if the descendents of this turtle (because it survived) evolved into animals with bigger brains and some measure of self awareness, they would likely all have anxiety disorders. Just like their highly successful forefather did.

And my question is this: is anxiety and ADD a new phenomenom? Or have we humans always had it but only now with our modern medicine, farming ability, and material standards for safety eliminated nearly all forms of danger? Have we done this to the point where a healthy level of anxiety which for millions of years protected our forebears from danger has now been rendered moot?

The world that I live in is so safe and secure that healthy anxiety and fear that would have kept me alive a hundred years ago would now require medication?

Another emotion that humans tend to suffer from quite often also has some huge survival benefits: Depression.

Economists have long known that the humans who act the most logically and thoughtfully are those who suffer from depression. Why? Depression typically means a lack of all emotions and feeling; all the normal happy feelings have been damped down to a negligible amount. And depressed people think logically because there are no emotions to guide their actions.

Emotions have been referred to as the "lubricant of the mind". The logical part of your brain acquires data points, organizes them, and keeps track of them. The emotional part of your brain acts as the scales, weighing everything your logical mind shows it and making decisions.

The human brain is meant to function that way; without emotions, decision making becomes paralyzed as the logical brain keeps weighing minutae and searching for more data, unable to properly compare apples and oranges.

People become depresseed when they are continually thwarted in their desires; when bad things happen again and again. Setback after setback, failure after failure, eventually creates depression.

But depression as a tool has its uses. Think about a forefather some seven thousand years ago. His crops were ravaged by bugs again. His family is starving and his youngest son just died from malnutrition. Life sucks. He becomes depressed and stops thinking emotionally. He sits in his sweaty mud hut for two days straight brooding and grousing. Suddenly he comes up with a solution to his problem of bug invasion and annual crop planting.

His depression shut him down for two days and he felt shitty. His logical brain ran around in circles in his head but it eventually came with an insight and a solution to his problem.

A happy ancestor would have kept enjoying the sun and life and eventually perished because he would not have figured out the proper crop planting rotation and methods.

This example is overly simplistic but it raises an important point: depression encourages logical thinking because its the only brain process that doesn't require emotions. Logical thinking solves problems. Logical thinking in a typical day is only required for 5% or less of actions. Everything else requires emotional thinking.

But millenia ago we had ancestors who dealt with failure by getting depressed and moping around. And it saved their lives. And we are here because of it.

And don't forget the turtles!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

What is the heart of a champion?

The heart of a champion. What does it mean?

I honestly think that is just means a tremendous focus on a singular goal; a focus so sharp it excludes all other goals. Nothing else can really be in focus when compared to this one goal.

And I see it in sports all the time. When a coach starts writing books, he's done. Especially in football.

When people achieve great success and then spread themselves too thin in the ensuing limelight, believing they have the Midas touch, only to discover that while they were out partying a person who was practicing and honing their skills the entire time has come and taken their spot.

I read about how Dwight Howard was touring and doing lots of things non-basketball related during the offseason. After he just got embarrassed on a national stage for his lack of freethrow shooting skills and post moves.

Thats not the heart of a champion. Kevin Garnett practices like a mad man, preferring to be the first player at the gym in the morning and the last person to leave.

LeBron James gets to a big game three hours early to practice shooting and get warmed up. I read before the 2007 Finals when he was demolished in four games by the Spurs that he learned it from Tim Duncan. Tim Duncan does that for EVERY game. TD is champ. LeBron is still ringless.

And personally, I doubt they will win it this year. Shaq is not a great teacher and not one to inspire others to work harder.

Lastly I noticed how Charles Barkley can't fix his golf swing. He gets half way to the ball in his downswing and then hesitates for a split-second and then resumes swinging. Its the dumbest thing you could imagine. And the funny part is that he doesn't have the mental acuity to overcome it!

Its incredible to want to get better and be unable to even swing the club smoothly. Let me ask you this: would Michael Jordan tolerate his mind and body conspiring to do something as stupid as that? The answer is no. And thats why MJ is a six time NBA champ and Charlest Barkley is not.

MJ could use his mind and willpower and force his body out of its comfort range and natural desires and mold it into whatever he wanted to. He wanted a postup game, he got one. Whatever his weaknesses were, he worked at them until they were strengths.

With Charles Barkley there is none of that. Just natural ability and thats it.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Golf is hard

Golf is a hard sport to play. My best club is seriously the putter. The ball is not moving, not teed up, and usually on very flat grass. From there I get to hit with a completely flat club face and simply roll the ball towards the tiny cup in the ground. Usually it goes in or stops rolling very near the hole, so the next shot can go in and I feel rewarded.

Everything else is a complete debacle.

Monday, August 10, 2009

The preseason rankings are out

I was reading the college footbal rankings and got pretty excited about college football. It'll be a fun time, despite the frequent stoppages of play to show us commercials. Its tough to get past all the commercialism of college football. I'm more interested in simply watching athletes play for the joy of playing and watching some young man spring 100 yards as fast as he can with the football and everyone watching and cheering and going bezerk.

Anyways, Florida seems primed to go wire to wire #1. I've read a book about Urban Meyer (Urban's Way) and am very impressed with his fastidious work ethic and maniacial desire to win. I'm equally impressed with Tim Tebow and his work ethic, physical strength, and championship mentality. I'm not so impressed once Tebow opens his mouth and starts talking.

Anyways, returning their entire defense (plus the entire second string) and everyone on offense besides Percy Harvin is very impressive. I'm a big believer in experience playing a factor in college football; the biggest leap I believe is between year 1 and year 2. I'm not sure how many first year starters are returning but their defense was traumatic to opposing offenses last year and should remain that way.

Obviously they could be upset along the way but they won't be beaten, except by a very physical team. I don't think OU will have the offensive line for it, plus they got their shot last year. It will likely be Texas or USC in the championship match. I've long wanted to USC play a tough schedule to match their ability on the field. Perhaps upsetting Florida is in the cards. It will be enjoyable to see them as underdogs for the first time in many seasons.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Preseason #1 in College Football

Tomorrow the preseason polls come out. And with that we have the first cause of cognitive biases and perception biases. As the season approaches, writers will write articles supporting the top teams and talking them up and poo-pooing the lower ranked teams. And so the cycle of a small decision by a coach to pick one team over another in a meaningless poll will feed expectations and support poorly formed opinions which will snowball over the coming weeks until the top teams have become once-a-decade goliaths set on a collision course.

If those teams make it six weeks it will turn into a once-a-century battle royale the likes of which we haven't seen since, well, a few years ago.

And a quick prediction I have relates to what I read about OU. Sam Bradford came back after winning a Heisman trophy last year. However, he has lost four starting offensive lineman. And that will hurt him significantly. I simply don't believe that the line will be as good and that will lead to a worse offensive performance on his part and a greater possibility of injury.