Friday, September 29, 2006
"Had I not known it was a single church's project, I never would have guessed it. The photography is sharp and cinematic, even in difficult-to-shoot football sequences. It also has trappings of bigger budget films, such as a cameo by University of Georgia football coach Mark Richt (photo, left) and tunes from Third Day, Bebo Norman and some other major contemporary Christian music stars.
Go see it!
Monday, September 25, 2006
Tristan and Isolde. I thought it was going to be sort of a chick flick with action in it. I was wrong! It's sort of like 2 parts Braveheart , 1 part A Knights Tale and 1/2 a part Romeo and Juliet. It's the story of an English legend spanning wars between the Irish and the British. It's got honor, duty, love, and really great characters. The battle scenes, the music, and just the filmmaking itself are great. There's no cursing or real nudity, and not too much gore.
Don't let the weird names confuse you, this movie rocks. Go out and rent/buy it today!
Friday, September 22, 2006
#1) Florida will beat Kentucky by at least 3 touchdowns. The average of the prediction ratings says Florida by 25.
Kentucky's only hope against the spread is that Florida after Tennessee is sort of like Florida State after beating Miami: exhausted. FSU almost lost to Troy.
But, everything I've read from the Kentucky papers this week say that:
1) Rafael Little probably won't play. We're without our starting tailback and fullback. Against a Florida team that held UT to negative yards. Disaster.
2) UK doesn't have enough guys to match up with UF's receivers. It's pretty bad when your defensive coordinator says "We can't match up..."
3) Rich Brooks says UK would have to play a perfect game to beat Florida. That will never happen.
4) It's at The Swamp and on ESPN. Disaster.
I'll watch some of the game, as it will be the only UK game I may have a chance to see this year.
I predict Baylor will beat Army by at least 10 points. They have to.
I predict that Notre Dame might not beat Michigan State. Last year it was a miracle comeback leading to an overtime loss for the Irish. This year, it's at State and the line is even... that's trouble. I'm for Brady Quinn to get his groove back.
I predict will spend much time on campus studying this weekend. That's a given.
I also predict that my family fantasy football team will put up a lot of points, yet still narrowly lose. I've got David Carr starting for me this week. Had I started him the previous 2 weeks I'd actually be 2-0 instead of 0-2.
Thursday, September 21, 2006
This is one of my favorite YouTube videos. Scroll forward to the 2:00 mark if you can, just start there.
Russians have some sort of natural propensity for acrobatics. If you watched America's Got Talent this summer you may have noticed that fact.
This is crazy street acrobatics and also a good look at what most of post- Soviet countries look like (the buildings).
Wednesday, September 20, 2006
Following their trail, I’ve come across several statisticians who are doing the same thing I am, but doing it much much better.
First, a couple of working papers by Ray Fair tracking the accuracy of several rating systems (including Sagarin). Ray Fair is a famous economist at Yale who is known for his econometric predictions about the economy. He asks some of the same questions I do. He asks "do predictors have independent information?"
This site actually tracks 24 computer predictions and averages them out.
It also ranks the results every week. Amazing.
(It also shows how many of them would now predict the correct winner if last week’s games were played again; sort of a check for model correction).
Here’s what I learn from this:
Last week’s “winner,” (SPRS) predicted the correct winner 85% of the time. Vegas itself was right 83%. Sagarin was 8th and Pure Points was 15th.
Against the Vegas point spread, however, SPRS was only correct 55%. In fact, looking at the 43 systems listed, it appears that the average is about 50%.
So, anyone wanting to make money against the spread should be discouraged by this. But, let’s say your preferred system wins 55% of the time this year against the spread.
If you make one hundred $5 bets, you’ll have invested $500. Let’s say you get a 2-for-1 return on your bets ($10 if you win).
Then by my calculations you’ll end up with about $50. Now, let’s say you get charged 2% commission for the winnings, you’re left with $49. Roughly a 10% return.
We’re ignoring the fact that it might take a long time to place that many bets, and might have other costs added. I’d say most gamblers would prefer to make five $100 bets. In which case, in any given week they might not win any money.
However, if my eye is correct and the return is actually about 50% then in the long run it doesn’t make sense to gamble.
It’s also amazing to me that Vegas does such a good job of winning. It’s just a few guys in a room that do research and pick a spread that “feels” right. Their goal is to set a spread so that there is equal betting on both sides. That’s it.
Which leads me to my next point: the Vegas line is an example of an efficient market. How?
The line adjusts to make the betting even.
Let’s say everyone “knows” that USC will win by 14, but the Vegas line opens at 7. People will start betting like crazy against the spread, and the line will eventually adjust upwards to 14. That means in the end you have an efficient market with no “arbitrage” opportunities.
So, do I continue tracking my predictions? I think I will. I’m looking for a certain pattern in the data, and now I have a better way to flush that out. I should add another prediction system to my index and also take the average predictions of those predictors.
What does this mean for the average fan? Well, you can look at a good predictor and tell about 75% of the time who is going to win any given game. It’s true with the NFL too, but the Vegas line is often the best predictor there. And once again, the average system is about 50% right against the spread.
This is why economists don’t gamble. We don’t tend to get much marginal utility out of placing bets on a 50/50 chance of winning.
Monday, September 18, 2006
1) Joni and I saw Monster House at the $1 movie on Friday. I thought it was supposed to be a neat/funny animated flick by Steven Speilberg.
I think Spielberg has gotten demented in his old age. It's basically a horror movie for middle schoolers. Filled with all kinds of creepy and just plain wrong stuff I wouldn't want my 5 year old seeing (but there were plenty of 5 year olds in the theater). I give it a 1/2 star, just because I liked the animation.
My idea: Let's just have realistic animation and get rid of actors altogether. I enjoyed watching the advanced digital animated actors in this much better than watching real ones.
2) I went 1 and 7 in my fantasy leagues. Now, I only really keep up with 4 or 5 of them, but still. 1 and 7 is really bad. I don't have time to build stat forecasts and such for my fantasy leagues. I'm too busy trying to do calculus. I'm worse at calculus than I am at fantasy football...
I'm actually pulling for Willie Parker to fumble the ball a bunch tonight, hoping to keep him at 0 points and force a tie with my father-in-law.
3). a. College football was a disaster on Saturday. I watched most of LSU-Auburn. Wow, those refs were really biased. Not quite as bad as Oklahoma-Oregon, but same result. Favorite byline of the story:
"University of Oklahoma president David Boren sent a letter Monday to Big 12 commissioner Kevin Weiberg, saying the officiating problems was beyond an 'outrageous injustice,' and asking him to pursue having the game eliminated from the record books and having the officials involved in the game suspended for the remainder of the season. "
Rhetorical question of the day: If Baylor ever lost a game on bad calls, do you think their president would write such a letter?
b. Notre Dame was smaller, weaker, and not as organized as Michigan. Overrated, I agree.
c. Louisville might go to the BCS national championship. Oh, wait, they lost both their Heisman running back AND quarterback. Beat UK and you get cursed.
d. As I predicted, UK won and Baylor lost. UK will likely go to a bowl. They've got to beat 4 more teams: Miss. State, Vandy, UL Monroe, and Central Michigan. 3 of those are at home.
The toughest of these is Vandy. THE TOUGHEST OF THESE IS VANDY! UK should go bowling.
4) a. Vegas won the Point Spread Predictor this week. In both wins/losses, and closest margin. Overall, it was pretty bad. Matchbook's average error was about -2.3. Root mean squared error (RMSE) = 13.3. Mean average % error (MAPE) = -2.9. It was only 78% right on overall win/loss.
b). Pure Points was more accurate than Sagarin's overall.
5.) I gave my first exam this morning, it went well. Average was an 80%, with a nice distribution around the mean. Biggest mistakes were bad typos I made on the exam. I'll do better next time.
And now, back to calculus featuring LaGrange Multipliers...
Friday, September 15, 2006
1) Do research for a 10-15 page research paper my class is writing on Purchasing Power Parity. It's for Foreign Exchange Markets.
2) Study for an exam I have in the same class next week.
3) Watch some of what ESPN.com is calling Seperation Saturday. 12 ranked teams play each other in one of the biggest NCAAF weekends ever.
4) Watch USC's program go down the tubes and eventually see them stripped of their 2004 national title (which should have gone to Auburn anyway).
5) Do my homework for microeconomics, which means do more calculus.
6) Go to church and lifegroup. In ABF we're talking about what it means to hear from God. In lifegroup we're doing a Larry Burkett study for Lifegroup entitled Money in Marriage. I like it so far.
7). Enter data into my Sagarin/Matchbook tracker. This week I'm tracking 32 games, and am including Sagarin's "Pure Points" prediction as well. He claims it's more accurate than his normal predictor, which is just a "synthesis" of "Pure Points" and his "Elo-Chess" rating that the BCS uses.
I need a name for this project. Any suggestions?
8). Watch Notre Dame and Kentucky win while Baylor loses.
9). Do something really nice for my wife. She deserves it. Even if she didn't, I'd still do something nice for her.
10). Hopefully get some panicked emails from my students who I'm giving my first ever exam to on Monday. They'd better be panicked.
11). Win at Fantasy Football. I picked up some good free agents this week and will essentially be fielding a brand new team. Brad Johnson is going to be my QB. Yahoo tells me to bench him in favor of David Carr or Philip Rivers (who I cut). But, the Vikes are at home and looked good last week, and the Texans are going to get demolished by the Colts. Johnson gets the nod, age before beauty. I'm now 1 trade away from having a serious contender. Maybe my brother-in-law-by-marriage's brother will pull the trigger on it and I'll be off and running.
Enjoy your weekend.
Thursday, September 14, 2006
Wal-Mart, the most prodigious job-creator in the history of the private sector in this galaxy, has almost as many employees (1.3 million) as the U.S. military has uniformed personnel. A McKinsey company study concluded that Wal-Mart accounted for 13 percent of the nation's productivity gains in the second half of the 1990s, which probably made Wal-Mart about as important as the Federal Reserve in holding down inflation. By lowering consumer prices, Wal-Mart costs about 50 retail jobs among competitors for every 100 jobs Wal-Mart creates . Wal-Mart and its effects save shoppers more than $200 billion a year, dwarfing such government programs as food stamps ($28.6 billion) and the earned-income tax credit ($34.6 billion).
He goes on to talk about why labor unions are lobbying Democrats to pass laws restricting WalMart. These would reduce its employment, productivity, and reduce the poverty-reducing savings they pass on to customers.
Even a liberal mayor in a labor-union liberal town like Chicago recognizes that these laws are harmful to overall welfare. Chicago tried to pass a "living wage" law that would increase minimum wage to $10/hr. plus benefits. As Daley recognized, this is only going to drive businesses out and reduce employment.
As Milton Friedman says, minimum wage laws do more to keep people in poverty than any other government program. It essentially makes it illegal to hire unskilled workers.
So, anti-Wal Mart laws basically do the same thing. They reduce employment, bring down the overall productivity in the economy, and increase the prices of goods that poor people who shop at Wal-Mart rely on.
Wednesday, September 13, 2006
There are plenty of markets out there bidding out the outcomes of future events. Point spreads are just one example. There are markets where you can buy and sell what you think the probabilities of a recession are. There are markets where you can trade on world events. There are several that you can trade on the outcome of elections.
Here's a free one that you can play around with: casualobserver.net. You can buy "futures" of candidates. You sign up for free and they give you $5,000 to play with.
For example, I bought several shares of Chet Edwards. He was listed as having a 56% chance of beating Van Taylor (so, you could bet on him to win for $56). I bought 58 shares, because I think the odds of him winning are greater than that. Now the price is $64.57.
Taylor is a Marine veteran of Iraq, and a traditional conservative. He's old-school Republican, pro-guns, pro-life, pro balanced budget amendment. A google search reveals 100 web pages blasting him, and only 2-3 supporting him...
Edwards is a party-line Democrat in many areas that pawns himself off as an "independent." He's also "fiscally conservative" which I guess is about all I care about these days, and is also pro-guns, which matters to Texans. He makes no claims about being pro-life.
Nothing against Van Taylor, but Chet Edwards is an entrenched incumbent who has brought billions of $pork$ to Central Texas. He makes everyone here wealthier. There's no way he gets ousted in a year where Republicans are going to lose a lot of seats.
So go to the site and start trading.
Tuesday, September 12, 2006
Rivers was my #2 pick in my first ever fantasy draft. It was a bold move. It's like going to DQ and saying "Texas Hungerbuster, please." Who needs a running back when you've got a gunslinger who's been sitting on the bench learning the offense and biding his time the past couple seasons? He's ready to rock, baby.
The great thing about Rivers is that he looks just like the legendary Ryan Leaf. A good omen right there.
(Left: Rivers, Right: Leaf).
So, I've got my All-World guy on an All-World team ready to come up big for me.
I went into Monday night down 30 points in our family's fantasy league, to my mother-in-law. You read that correctly. She put up respectable numbers. But, I had 3 guys yet to play:
T.J. Duckett- the guy who was supposed to be the big offseason acquisition for Washington. For whatever reason, Joe Gibbs decided not to play Duckett. He decided Santana Moss would be a better off getting more carries. At least that's what the box score tells me. 0 points for Duckett.
Santana Moss- The aforementioned carries got me a couple points, as did his receptions. But, I was counting on Brunell to connect with Moss on the game-winning or tying last-minute drive. That didn't happen. 8 points total for Moss. (i had moss in most of my leagues. he got me 0 points in those).
But, never fear because Philip Rivers is here. It was all on him, no problem. The man would easily get 25-30 points. Schottenheimer instead decided to run smashmouth. "Let's just throw the ball a couple of times down field, the rest of it we'll play conservative. I'd rather have my QB on a chain that actually make him earn a paycheck." That's almost as shady as St. Louis deciding to cage up their rookie TE on Sunday, yet another sleeper pick in most of my leagues.
Result? 11 points for Rivers. 11 points!
My 2 year old nephew had Tomlinson. He ran roughshod and set scoring records with his team this week.
I lost to my mother-in-law. You read that correctly. She's a nice lady, and won't rub it in my face too much.
I called down the thunder and quickly canned Duckett and set aside Rivers too. Brad Johnson will start for me this week.
I ended up a whopping 3 and 5 in my fantasy leagues this week. Most of it because of Moss and McCardell getting little action last night. I think I'll stick with tracking point spreads instead.
Monday, September 11, 2006
Sample size = 21 games.
Win/loss predictor winner: Sagarin ( 19 -2), (Matchbook [18-3])
Closest predictor of actual point spread:
RMSE = 18.89, (Sagarin = 19.17).
VERY close this week, very little difference between the 2 predictors.
Congrats goes out to North Texas University, home of the Mean Green. Their win on Saturday snapped a 7 game losing streak and ended up being the 1st game I've tracked that had Sagarin predicting a team to win, and Vegas predicting that same team to lose. Sagarin won. Sagarin predicted NT by 3.5, while Vegas predicted SMU by 5. NT won 24-6.
After 2 weeks Sagarin still holds the slight edge.
In the meantime, I won my division in College Pick 'Em on Yahoo this week. I'm still far behind in the standings, though.
Here's a graph of the errors to show you how similar they are. Wow.
Friday, September 08, 2006
Fantasy, I mean NFL football started last night. I have 4 teams on Yahoo and 4 or 5 on ESPN, I lost count. I have live draft teams, list draft teams, salary cap teams, and pick 'em teams this year. Drafts were a way to occupy my mind while attempting to study long hours.
So, don't ask me "who's your quarterback?" because I have 5 or 6 good ones, or "who's your running back?" because I've got a baker's dozen. I'm both rooting for and against players at the same time. Guess that defeats the purpose?
Enjoy the upcoming clip.
Wednesday, September 06, 2006
For months, a new add-on for Firefox called "Facebook Stalker" has become increasingly popular. This add-on keeps track of your Friends' profiles and allows you to see what changes they've made to it since you last looked at it. (New boyfriend, new hobby, movie, etc.)
Facebook saw the demand for this product and decided to build it into their own site, but with with a crucial twist. Now, whenever you log on you see a page showing you detailed changes to everyone's profile. "Steve broke up with Sara," or "Dave is at the library," it will tell you, and rather annoyingly so. Worse, when I go to Dave's profile I can see a list of every friend he's added, every "wall" he's written on.
So, the catch with the new addition is this: Everyone can automatically see every action you take too. Everything is transparent and open.
So, how does this relate to economics? Here's a graph I drew: Price on the Y-axis, quantity on the X-axis.
It's a pretty simple supply/demand graph for stalking. Facebook Stalker let you see other people's changes (Ie: "stalk" others) at little cost. The set-up of the site was the same. No one automatically saw changes you made or what you were up to. That's a low P1 causing a very high Q1 demand for "stalking."
However, now that Facebook installed its new features you have 2 increases in price: 1) The annoyance of the new page 2) Knowing that every action you take on the Book is easily searchable for days. Apparently, Facebook will only supply this feature with these prices built in.
So, the addition of that supply curve we have an automatic shift to P2, Q2. There's a huge uproar, suddenly no one wants the Stalker options because the price of total transparency is so high. Petitions are made, complaints are written, and people start leaving Facebook.
It's Econ 101. Hopefully this post will get lots of hits from journalists looking to write about this "grass roots" phenomenon.
Tuesday, September 05, 2006
It's the autobiography of Alexander, from his life in high school to his journey in the pros. I quickly thumbed to a section I was eager to read, about his days being recruited by major colleges.
Alexander grew up in Boone County, about 40 minutes from Lexington. He dominated and was KY's "Mr. Football" when I was a freshman in high school. He'd always get 200+ yards by halftime, and then his coach would just bench him for the rest of the game. I think he got 250 or something on my alma mater that year in a 56-0 win or something.
I remembered that supposedly in an interview years ago, he allegedly said "I would have gone to Kentucky, but they never really bothered to recruit me."
No one was sure if that was true or not, Bill Curry was the coach and was considered to be incompetent at the time. I checked the book for the facts. Apparently UK did recruit Alexander, but he tells this story (my paraphrase here, I didn't buy the book):
"I made an official visit to Kentucky and went to Bill Curry's office. He had a huge replica of a championship ring on his desk. I said 'I didn't think Kentucky had ever won a championship.' Curry laughed and said, 'No, we haven't, but I keep this ring here to show people what one would look like.' Alexander asked 'But, why is the ring so big?' and Curry replied: 'When I get an offensive lineman big enough to wear that ring is when we're going to win a championship.'"
Alexander decided right then not to attend UK. The coach had basically told him that they had no offensive line and so SA felt he'd just get killed. To Bama he went, and the rest is history.
I share that story just because it's interesting, and also sad for UK. The other stories about his recruiting experience are also very fun to read. I was also unaware that Alexander was a Christian until I saw this book.
Monday, September 04, 2006
Kentucky went to Louisville and showed that it will be just as bad this year as it's ever been. Favorite stat? UL rushing: 363 yards. UK rushing: 24 yards. Way to go, defense!
However, Louisville also lost their season when Heisman candidate Michael Bush broke his leg.
Baylor also disappointed. Their defense looked much improved from last year, making huge stops in the 1st half. But, they blew it on a 3rd-and-very-long in the 3rd quarter and the wheels just came off. It was like watching Kentucky play: cursed. They had 2 critical chances to take a big lead and ice the game which were fumbled and thrown away. There was also some questionable play calling which cost them at least 1 field goal.
The real winner this weekend? The Sagarin Ratings Index. I tracked 9 games, comparing the predicted point spreads of Matchbook and the Sagarin.
The Sagarin was more accurate than Matchbook. Both spreads tended to underestimate the spread. Here's how they looked (click to enlarge):
Zero means no error. If the error was negative that means that the prediction underestimated the final margin. For example: USC vs. Arksansas. Matchbook predicted USC by 8.5, Sagarin predicted USC by about 17.5. USC won by 36. So, both way underpredicted, but Sagarin was much closer. Overall, Sagarins margin of error was lower than Matchbook, but it's too early to claim statistical significance.
I'll track the same 9 teams next week and see how it goes. They range from major teams (USC) to minor teams (Idaho).
It's worth pointing out that UK is now ranked #94, and Baylor #103.
Saturday, September 02, 2006
But, the Sagarin Index is Bayesian, meaning the inital rankings aren't supposed to be that useful. But, its predicted point spreads are remarkably similar to those in vegas. So far today (after 2 games I've tracked), it's been more accurate than the vegas spread.
So, this does not bode well for Baylor (nor Kentucky). I-AA Montana is ranked 84th! Tulsa, So. Miss, Northern Illinois all are ranked higher than BU or UK.
We'll see if the Sagarin is seriously wrong. It is Bayesian, so it should improve every week. Perhaps it's intricately designed in such a way to match the vegas point spreads intitially? As those predictions match up the rankings should re-order themselves to match next week's spreads... wow.
The game within a game.
Friday, September 01, 2006
Yes, September is here and that means school is here too. I'm looking at a load of calculus that's heavy to very heavy.
The worst part of August ending has to be Bob Schieffer leaving CBS News.
They had a little farewell for him last night, with Katie Couric giving her props and then playing a little montage tribute to his life. I believe that Bob was the only honest broker of news for the past year. His conservative Texas roots came through, and just the way he laughed at stories and made some funny sarcastic remarks on air just made it all happen. His sincere "thank you" to every reporter that he'd turn to during the broadcasts were great. You can read his sign-off comments here. I might just quit watching the evening news.
2nd worse thing about September is this picture that says it all:
The USA sent their best and brightest to Japan. They played like a team, they played hard, pressure defense, and had fun. They looked great in their first 7 games. Then, they lost. Many people picked them to lose to Spain in the gold medal game. Instead, they lost to Greece today in the semis and can only get the bronze. Poor shooting, poor defensive teamwork, USA lost the lead and then came tumbling down again. :-(
There are 3 very shaky points of optimism this weekend.
#1) Notre Dame at Georgia Tech on Saturday, should be a close game. If the Irish win they'll be in the BCS title hunt. If they lose Notre Dame fans will declare doomsday.
#2) Baylor vs. TCU. There's so much legit hype in Waco for the Bears this year. If Baylor wins, they'll have beaten a good ranked team and will likely go on to win 6 games and head to a bowl. If they lose, it might be another 5 win season and no bowl.
#3) Kentucky @ Louisville. Louisville is favored by more than 3 touchdowns. No way they cover that spread. In fact, I'm going to predict that UK pulls the huge upset. That will get UK fans so hyped up predicting 6 wins that they get upset by Ole Miss and some other weak teams, and end up with 5 wins and mediocrity again. Because that's how UK football is.
Wake me up when it's over.