Category: Blog

“Baseball is boring.”

So I found this article in the Atlantic that takes a bunch of baseball stats, does some analysis on them, and basically sets out to explain why baseball is becoming less and less interesting, and why less and less people are tuning in to watch it. You can find that link here.

It’s a fine article. It makes some good points. I don’t fully disagree with it. I showed it to my dad, and he had some strong opinions on it, and I wanted to post them because I think they’re really interesting to read through. My dad’s been watching and listening to baseball since he was a kid, so he has a wider perspective on this. I’ll let him do the talking (barely edited for clarity).

I read this and wanted to reach through the screen to punch the writer.  Yes, power numbers are down and it can be attributed to fewer juiced batters.  Also, more interleague play takes a few DHs out of at-bats.  Yes, umpires are calling the “low” strike more consistently, but there are players (like Matt Adams in St. Louis) that are not only accustomed to the low strike, they thrive on it.  The strike zone means nothing in this equation.  The near-extinction of gorilla ball is a difference maker.  Someone in the comments [of the Atlantic article] made mention of aluminum bats, but with the BBCOR standards, alloy bats play like wood.  There’s an outcry about the lack of home runs in college ball, particularly the CWS.  People don’t want to see refined pitching, speedy defenses, and calculated risks.  They want cavemen with clubs.

As to the popularity, baseball is not a violent game.  Football is.  Americans like violence.  With the rules changes that nearly eliminate home plate collisions, you make the play at the plate less exciting, less chest-thumping.  There is more of an emphasis on speed and defense.  You’ve heard, perhaps, of Whitey Herzog, onetime manager of Kansas City and St. Louis.  Hey built his teams around a philosophy that has come to be known as “Whiteyball.”  You’ve heard of Moneyball, this is similar.  Pitchers pitch to contact, defense is fast and agile.  You had players like Ozzie Smith, Willie McGee, Tommy Herr, Terry Pendleton, and Vince Coleman—players whose first step was so quick that they could chase down a ball and make a play no matter where it was.  On the offense, guys drew walks, infield singles, then stole bases.  Station-to-station baseball.  Even catchers bunted.  There was the occasional Jack Clark, the power threat at first base, but mostly small-ball.  I once watched a game where Vince Coleman walked to start the game, stole second on the next pitch, and scored on an infield single (yes, infield, yes, from second) by Willie McGee.  Seven pitches into the game, one run and no outs with no balls leaving the infield.  It’s hard to defend raw speed.

One of the less-talked-about things that hurts baseball is radio.  You can’t miss a day without a baseball game on cable.  But if you don’t have cable, that dynamic is different.  If you go back in time when baseball had fewer teams and more dedicated fans, the difference was radio.  Yep, yep, yep—radio.  If you couldn’t be at the game, you listened to it on the radio.  Nowadays there are few games on the radio.  More emphasis is put on TV and streaming media.  You don’t reach the impoverished areas of southwest Detroit, south Chicago, or south-central Los Angeles with streaming media.  You reach it with radio.  Satellite radio has games on all the time—for a price.  I don’t know too many ten-year-olds that have satellite radio.  Even fewer who listen to ballgames with their dad.

MLB already has gone to a flat-seamed ball.  It reduces the break on a curve.  Makes it easier to hit.  In the 70s, they made the mound shorter, made it easier for batters to see and catch up with the fastball.  I think dropping the mound too much makes this look like slow-pitch softball.

No national stars?  Sure there are, one for every team.  The problem is that there was an era of expansion in which there were barely enough players to staff and now there is a dilution of talent between Low-A, High-A, AA, AAA, Fall League, Winter Ball, and The Show.  There are sooooo many players out there that need reps and exposure and to play.  It’s hard to have a star when you have four guys able to take his position if he gets the sniffles.  Last year, Matt Adams was hitting .485 after about 100 at-bats and was not playing every day.  The Cards also had the highest scoring offense in the NL.  Everybody was producing.  Adams had an 0-fer and sat out three days.  Meanwhile, Allen Craig had an historic season.  Two guys nobody had heard of last year ended up being just what the team needed—after letting Carlos Beltran go in the offseason and trading David Freese (yes, World Series hero) a season after letting MVP Albert Pujols go.  Stars are expensive and mobile.  If you develop, you don’t need stars, you’ve got a guy at AAA on speed dial.

This turned into more of a rant than I had expected.  I, for one, enjoy the calculated chess match that is current major-league ball.  20-16 games devastate pitching staffs and can ruin a road trip.  4-3 games over after 2 ½ hours are thrilling.  I like football and hockey, but baseball will always be my true love.

The second-to-last paragraph is probably my favorite, and I think contributes heavily to the problems facing the MLB. Name recognition is hard enough with huge rotating staffs, let alone guys that switch teams. There are relatively few interesting plays (as in Whiteyball) because everyone is just that consistent and good. They have to be, or they won’t be in the majors long.

I have a lot of trouble watching baseball on TV. Even if it’s one of my teams! This is the saddest thing to me. Three years ago, I was watching a World Series game — a World Series game! — in which my Cardinals were playing, and it was a close game… and I was drifting off every ten minutes as the game dragged on for more than four hours.

Maybe I’m just not patient. Maybe I’m not a “true fan.” But heck if I am going to try extraordinarily hard to watch a sport on TV if I’ve gotta hit the caffeine just to make it through.

Three semesters left.

Had a talk with my adviser today about what I have left to graduate. With a year and a half to go, I’m looking at 30 credit hours, minimum, left.

Conceivably, that’s a single year, with an early graduation, and 15 hours a semester. In reality, that’s not something I need to do. I’m not in a hurry.

My plan is to take 12 credit hours, the minimum, for the next three semesters, which will knock out all my silly gen-ed requirements (ugh, philosophy) as well as some upper-level computer science level classes.

This also leaves room for, give or take, six hours of completely free credits. Credits that I need to stay a full-time student (important for scholarship reasons) but not for anything else.

I will probably end up filling that with more computer science courses. Might as well, right? But I have the room, and can make the time, for something less useful but more fun, like a WWII class, or an art class, or something completely different.

I’m really glad that everything worked out well. Dual-enrollment in high school, as well as taking 34 credits last year, put me ahead of where I need to be, and that’s right where I want to be.

This also gives me plenty of room to continue working at Hudl through next semester, which is probably the best way to get computer science knowledge and experience, as well as cash in pocket.

So, a good day!

Sparq camp!

I got to go through a Sparq camp! I’ve had to explain this to a few people, so I’ll break it down:

The NFL does this thing called the NFL scouting combine, and it’s a week-long event where invited players (aka the cream of the incoming draft class) get invited to test their strength, speed, and agility in measurable ways. It’s something that NFL teams, and the public, use to rank athletes, and while it’s not the final say in who’s good, it certainly helps competition.

Nike does this thing called a Sparq camp, which is similar but much smaller and for high schoolers (and 7th / 8th graders), and it consists of four events: a 40-yard dash, a run-left, run-right, run-left agility test, a kneeling medicine ball throw, and a vertical jump. It’s partially to track your improvement, partially to show to colleges, and partially to rank yourself across all high school athletes, which Nike does with some form of ranking.

Hudl, who partners with Nike to get Sparq data on up their website for athletes who have completed these camps, decided to coordinate one of these camps in-house, just for a little friendly competition. So I jumped for it!

I don’t remember my stats exactly. My 40-yard dash was around 5.2 seconds, I think. My agility score was worse, closer to 6 (and in my defense, I didn’t have cleats). I don’t even remember the ball toss. It was miserable. But I managed to get 27 inches on the vertical leap, which is just slightly below the apparent average of 27.3 inches measured from all of last year’s camps. In fact, it’s only half an inch lower than Clay Matthews’ score when he went through the camp [same link above]. That’s sort of cool.

I’m really curious how I did relative to the other Hudlies. Not first, I know that, but I’m curious where I am. If being a goalie did nothing else for me in life, at least it let me jump okay.

Dissecting Pocket Battles

pocket-battlesSo Pocket Battles is this nifty little board game that’s contained within a small box. It’s a two-player strategy game: you set up your armies individually, deploy them on the battlefield, and pit them against each other by moving them around and rolling dice. It’s fairly quick and pretty fun, and there are 4 boxes (with 2 armies apiece) which makes for a lot of mix-and-match battles.

Something that I really like doing with board games, and dice games in particular, is trying to crack them. What are the odds of xyz happening, what’s the average performance? I’ve done this previously with Six Cubes and to a point with Risk (and I’ve done a little not-talked-about work with Parcheesi and Yahtzee, which I’ll have to talk about someday). Pocket Battles is a game full of variables and odds, and it was a challenge to come up with something I could work into something I could use.

In the future I’d like to put the algorithm I used on GitHub, because GitHub is a neat place and I hope that someone else on the internet can use my code, as I stole and rearranged it from the internet. For now I just want to briefly talk about what the algorithm can do, and a couple questions I had.

How good can a charging unit get based on attack dice alone? The only special trait the algorithm really takes into account is +x Wounds, which apply extra wounds only if you land a hit, which doesn’t affect hitchance obviously but makes your bottom line damage look a lot better. So what’s the tradeoff between +wounds and just +targets?

Let’s consider the Orcs, who can make a Unit [Bugbear + Standard Bearer + 2 Gnolls] with 4/4/5/6 targets, 4 dice on a charge, and +2 wounds; if you switch out one troop [Gnolls for Orcs], you get 3/4/4/5/6 targets but only +1 wound. How do these units compare? We’d like to look at the probability that we’ll do ANY damage — consistency is always good — and we’d like to look at our most likely outcome as well as our last wound target before we fall below 50% likelihood, so we can try and guess whether our unit will kill an enemy unit.

[all percentages are rounded off, for those keeping score at home.]

The first unit, which has two Gnolls, has a 94% chance of dealing any damage at all (and the minimum is 3, so that’s where the scale starts). The most likely outcome is 4 damage, with a 25% occurrence (though 5 damage has a 24% occurrence, so you have nearly a 50% chance of dealing 4 or 5 damage), and we will deal at LEAST 5 damage 52% of the time.

Those are some sweet numbers. Let’s swap out a Gnoll for an Orc, which gives us another die target but removes a +1 wound, and try again.

This new unit, with an Orc, has a 99% chance of dealing any damage at all, the minimum being 2 here. The most likely outcome is 4 damage, with a 28% chance, followed by 5 damage, with a 25% chance, so more than 50% of all outcomes will deal 4 or 5 damage. We have a 72% chance of dealing at least 4 damage (before falling off to dealing at least 5 at 44%). What does this mean?

It means that the Orc unit is more consistent at dealing wounds at all, but the double-Gnoll unit deals more wounds when it hits. The difference between 99% and 94% doesn’t feel large, but that difference only gets larger the fewer dice you have — if, for example, you receive a wound and your Standard Bearer goes down (losing you one die), the double Gnoll unit now only hits 88% of the time vs. the Orc unit hitting 96% of the time.

Does the Confederacy have any advantages over the Union in long-range weapons? As the first box I played with, I got a lot of experience with it, and it’s interesting how unfair it can feel. The Napoleon Gun, a Union rifle, can shoot almost anywhere on the battlefield and can be paired with a Captain for 3 dice against targets of 4/5/6. Its counterpart, the Confederate Withworth, costs 1 more and has 5/6/6 targets (though still 3 dice when paired with a Lieutenant).

Seems like the Union gun would be much more consistent, and you’d be right: it deals at least 1 damage 88% of the time and at least 2 damage 50% of the time, where the Withworth only lands at least 1 hit 70% of the time and at least 2 48% of the time, both less than the Napoleon Gun. It’s not until you to 3 and beyond that the Withworth picks up, but it’s only a 20% chance of dealing 3 or more wounds. The important stat here is the first one — you generally can’t afford to have your backline miss.

The Confederates have another backline rifle, though: the Parrot Rifle, which has no Wide Arc trait but regains 4/5/6 targets and has +1 wound. What’s its stats? You roll one less die (we’re assuming paired with the Lieutenant again), so that’s a first strike, but does this ruin it? Odds of landing a hit (at least 2 damage) are 75%. This is neat and all, but remember the Napoleon Gun basically splits this percentage between its 1 and 2 wound hits (88% and 50%; this is not an exact data point) and retains Wide Arc, which the Parrot Rifle could really use.

What if the Confederates get the first shot with the Ordnance Rifle (plus Lieutenant)? This has 4/5/6/6 targets, but no long-range trait, and thus is unlikely to see a lot of serious action, but we’re bold and theoretical here. Still at a 75% hit rate, same as the Parrot Rifle. Indeed, the Ordnance Rifle is less effective than the Napoleon Gun as both 1 and 2-wound points, and is only slightly higher once you hit 3 wounds (14% vs. 13%). And it’s on the front lines, getting destroyed.

What about Union’s other guns? They’re both 5/6 targeting, 4-dice-rolling frontline units (and thus vulnerable), but what if they go first? Odds of them landing at least 1 wound are 80%, and their 2-wound-or-more stat is only a percentage point lower at 41% than the Ordnance’s 42%. Oh, and did I mention that they don’t even need the Captain to do this. Truthfully, the Union’s artillery outstrips the Confederacy in almost every way, unless you’re particularly lucky with your rolls.

So what about this algorithm? I’m hoping to scan the cards here soon and get some simple GUI yoinked up, so I (or you) don’t have to type numbers in manually anymore. The only trait I want to add special support for is the Orcs’ Blood Lust trait, which is interesting. Basically, this should be a tool to guide your army-building, based on percentages, though you can usually remember that, in general, targets add reliability, +wounds add high-end damage, and extra dice do a bit of both. Check back later for the algorithm itself, if I clean it up, and more pictures and talking.

Friendly people.

So today I was at Barnes and Noble, doing the thing that I always do — looking at the World War II books, because I’m a big fan of WWII stuff. I was mostly just browsing when a girl who was looking at books down the aisle came up and said hi.

She asked if I’d read any of the books up there, and if I had a favorite. I pointed out Flyboys, which might be my second-favorite book (behind Ender’s Game), The Pacific War, which I haven’t read all the way through but is one of the most complete sources about the USA-Japan conflict, and Band of Brothers, which was the book that they made an HBO series out of.

She seemed genuinely interested, told me she liked history but preferred Civil War-era stuff, which there aren’t quite as many books written about. She asked where I was going to school, I told her, and she said she was actually going to school in South Dakota and was just down for the week visiting family.

We chit-chatted for just a bit longer before she said see ya, and thanks. It was really nice to have a brief, friendly conversation with someone. I hope that happens again.

Working for the man.

So I’m staying home from work today due to a serious sickness. It’s been a while since I’ve felt this sick — unable to stand properly, sore all over, nose running like a faucet, the works. And with Hearthstone down, I figure this is as good a time as any to talk about my job and the summer in general.

Working at Hudl has been a reasonably positive experience the entire month or so I’ve been here. Almost everyone at the office is a really cool person, easy to get along with, straight shooters everywhere. Work is managed well and everyone seems to know what they’re doing, or at least where things are going.

I got a little unlucky when I first started up in that the section of the company I was going to be doing QA for had a serious lack of developers for some time: one had a kid, one had (has) a sick family, and one was helping the dev intern get his feet wet. So I won’t lie and say I wasn’t super bored for quite a while. I helped other people when I could, but it was a slow time.

With things being rearranged and more and more people joining the team every week, things have picked up reasonably, and everything is going fine. QA is fine. It’s definitely not the “throw-it-over-the-wall” mentality, every team is deeply involved with every aspect of their own team’s work. I appreciate my role in the squad. It is necessary and I have done just fine, in my own opinion.

Tell you what, though, it’s not glamorous.

I knew this going in, of course. If you had asked me around the turn of the calendar year if I’d be working at Hudl in the summer, I’d have told you no way in hell. The fact that I’m here at all is brilliant. But I know now for sure that quality assurance is not something I pine for.

Which is fine. We can’t all love our jobs. And really it’s not bad. I’m not miserable. I’m not even unhappy. Hudl has done a lot for me, in handing me a job and a temporary housing stipend and lunches and a cast of great characters.

But if I was picking my dream job, it wouldn’t be QA. It might be development. It really might be design, which sounds so hokey to a lot of people but really intrigues me. Truthfully I’m not sure what pushes all my buttons quite yet. I have time.

As of yesterday, the summer was officially 1/3 over, for me, at least in terms of how I think of things. I moved into the house I’m staying at for the summer on May 9th, and I move into my apartment for the school year on August 9th. So, one month down. Sure, there’s a week or something before school starts after the August date, but it’s scary realizing that summer is really quick.

I’m reasonably sure that I’ll be able to continue working at Hudl part-time through the school year, it seems to have been mentioned plenty already but nothing’s been set in stone. And I aim to do that — I think it’ll help to have some pressure in my limited time working there, instead of having gobs of unstructured time in between tests. And somebody’s gotta pay my rent.

Buying a new desktop

My old laptop is hitting it hard, and with the eventual move to an apartment with a bigger desk, I decided to build a new computer for myself, as a good-job-saving-your-paychecks reward. Just wanted to briefly talk about it here, since I think I got a pretty good deal on it and it was fun to put together. A friend of mine knew what to look for and was generally very helpful and good company; good job Tom.

I already had a monitor / keyboard / mouse so those weren’t an issue, which helped, but I put together a pretty quick rig for about $700, which was perfectly reasonable (and is relatively easy to expand in the future).

The case was honestly just a regular bargain case that the motherboard would fit in. It was a tight fit but it works fine. I didn’t need no damn flashy case, nor would I want to order anything but black, given the chance.

The motherboard I understand less about. According to some sources on the internet, it has a good cost/power ratio, and is relatively modern. I also may have gotten some deal on it; it’s currently out of stock which makes me think there was some special going on.

The graphics card is (if I remember right) the same card Tom has in his case (or perhaps a model newer). Again, good cost/power ratio. New cards are always overpriced and old cards, well, are old. Thus far it plays every game I’ve tried on maximum settings (Crysis 2 being the most significant, but it ran on all Ultra settings!).

The power supply is a power supply. It specifically is about 1.5x the power consumption of everything in the box, and that’s really it.

The CPU computes things and doesn’t afraid of anything. I don’t know a lot about these numbers either. This and the motherboard were the difficult ones.

The SSD stores things. SSDs are the way of the future, and it’s seriously noticeable how quick it is. Windows boots in seconds here where it can take twenty minutes to uncork itself on my big laptop. It’s not huge but I don’t need the space yet and storage is always getting cheaper (and can be increased without any real problems).

The RAM is big. I don’t think there is much finesse to purchasing RAM. You just want more of it. The motherboard has room for twice as much as is in it now, so this is again easily upgradeable.

My first, big Asus laptop I named “George,” sarcastically, because my dad made fun of me when I first got it in the vein of Lenny from Of Mice and Men, or really the abominable snowman from Looney Tunes (specifically the quote “and I will hug him and squeeze him and call him George!”). When I got my netbook, George Jr. (or most accurately george-jr, no spaces or periods allowed) was the most obvious next name. So what’s the name of this new desktop, the fastest thing I’ve owned?

King George.