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FEBRUARY 3, 2013 flashback    WINTER IN THE BURGH

Look!  Up in the sky!  Is it snow?  Is it sleet?  Is it rain?  Is it freezing rain?

No, according to My Yahoo!, it's “Unknown Precipitation.”  We'd better don our hard hats.

 


  FIRST DAY OF SPRING: MARCH 20

FEBRUARY 1, 2023    SCARY SHADOW

According to Wikipedia, tomorrow morning's events in Punxsutawney might augur An Early Spring.  “If the groundhog pops out from its burrow, sees his shadow, and then disappears again, it will mean that winter is to continue for six more weeks.”

“But if the groundhog does not see its shadow, then it will not be scared to come out of its burrow and winter will soon end” — in only six more weeks!

“Part of the problem with pinning down an accuracy rate for the groundhog is that what constitutes An Early Spring is not clearly defined.”

 
JANUARY 31, 2013 flashback    WHO'S A BABY?

We often hear in the news that a legislator has proposed a measure to do such and such.  But a bill is not yet a law.  Even though a legislator has introduced it, it requires approval by committees, passage by both houses, and a signature by the chief executive before it goes into effect.  You can be arrested for breaking a law, but not for breaking a bill.

Similarly, I’d like to point out, a fetus is not a baby.  It’s likely to develop into a baby, but contrary to what some people insist, a fetus is not yet an actual citizen.  It has no date of birth, no name, no birth certificate.  Therefore, however abhorrent we may find abortion to be, a woman who aborts her pregnancy is not committing murder.

Yet many of those who oppose abortion refer to it as “killing babies.”  Pro-lifers say that Americans kill something like 3,300 “sweet and precious little ones” every day.

On the other end of the scale, of course, Americans occasionally kill young people whose age is greater than zero.  In particular, 20 students died in the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.  Most of them were six years old; a few were older.

To me, a “baby” is an infant, and these were not babies; these were children.  Six-year-olds don’t like to be called babies.  They’re big boys and girls now.  They go to school.  Yet in the aftermath, some people referred to them as babies.

Laura Feinstein, a Sandy Hook teacher:  “I can’t imagine who would do this to our poor little babies.”

West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin:  “Never before have we seen our babies slaughtered.”

Texas Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee:  “Certainly our hearts go out for those babies that were lost.”

Country singer Ashley Monroe: "My heart is literally breaking for all those precious babies and their families in Connecticut.”

Actress Alyssa Milano: "My heart and soul aches for the parents of those babies lost and for the babies that have to somehow heal and overcome.”

Why do we want to confer babyhood on those who are obviously not infants?

For many people, particularly women, it's simple.  An infant is irresistibly cute.  “Aw, look at that dear little thing!  See those tiny little fingers!  Such a miracle!  So precious!  Is it a boy or a girl?”  And their protective instincts take over; like a parent, the last thing they want is for any harm to come to this helpless little human.  They keep on considering it a “baby” whether its age is –½ or +6.

Ever notice how in soap operas, an anguished mother will sob, “Where is my baby?  I want my baby back!”  It’s never “Where is Nathan Junior?”  The generic notion of a lost baby (not a specific missing person) strikes a powerful emotional chord in most members of the audience.

Not me.  To me,  infants are not all that cute.  I’m the nerdish guy whose eyes widen instead at a store display of calculators, having found these complex gadgets fascinating since they first became available 40 years ago.  They're litle mathematical miracles.

Bill Crawford, a comedian on a radio show here in Pittsburgh, also dislikes infants.  He has two young daughters, but he admits he didn’t really want to be around them until they were at least old enough to talk, like a real person.

Conclusion:  there are enough actual babies around, annoying us with their bawling and pooping, yet unable to carry on a conversation.  Let’s not misapply the word “baby,” for emotional reasons, to include the unborn and the toddler.

 

JANUARY 28, 2023    TOO MANY TRIPLES

In my last post, about college basketball, I noted that two-thirds of Pitt's points on Wednesday came from uncontested three-point shots.  Sadly, that's not the hard-driving give-and-go game I grew up with in the 1960s.

It's the same situation in the pros.  “The enormous increase in three-point shooting is going to lead to more scoring,” NBA commissioner Adam Silver said last week, “especially when these guys, even the big men, shoot three-point shots as well as they do.  I remember people were saying, ‘It's all about dunking, and guys can't shoot.’  Now it's, ‘They shoot too well.  It should be more of an inside game.’  We'll keep looking at it.”

Let's make a new rule that no more than one-third of a team's points can come from three-point shots.

How would such a limit be enforced? 

We could decree that triples are to be allowed only when a pair of blue lights are glowing.  The blue-light specials, controlled by the scoring computer, would be located at the ends of the arc in both the left and right corners.

If we let A represent All of a team's points and B represent its points from three-point “Bombs,” then the computer looks ahead to consider what the situation would be if the team were to make another three-pointer.  Then the  points from triples would be B+3 and the overall points would be A+3.  Would that be legal?   If  B+3 divided by A+3 equaled more than .3333, the one-third rule would be violated.  Therefore another three-pointer is not allowed, and the blue lights would not be lit.

Suppose a team has A=40 points, with B=12 from triples.

All Points

4 pts from FT

24 from 2pt

12 from 3pt

40

10%

60%

30%

If their next score were to be another triple, we'd have A=43 and B=15.

New Points

4 pts from FT

24 from 2pt

15 from 3pt

43

9%

56%

35%

However, that can't happen.  The blue lights would not be on because 15 divided by 43 is .3488, or 35%.  While the lights are off (as would be the situation at the start of the game until at least six points had been scored), the team is still allowed to shoot from beyond the arc, but the official won't raise his arm.

And if the shot goes in, they'll get only two points, not three.

New Points 

4 pts from FT

26 from 2pt

12 from 3pt

42

9%

62%

29%

Now the lights can come on, because if the next shot is from long range it can legitimately count for three points.

Next Points

4 pts from FT

26 from 2pt

15 from 3pt

45

9%

58%

33%

~

~

~

~

 

JANUARY 26, 2023    ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE FOR STATS

I'm watching college basketball last night, Wake Forest at Pitt.  Players collide, and charging is called.  What exactly happened?  Oh, good, we're going to see it again.  But the replay, saved from a couple of minutes earlier, shows us instead a three-point attempt:  a wide-open player shoots and scores.  Here comes a second replay:  a wide-open player shoots and scores.

For years, dating back to when I worked in TV sports graphics, these low-information replays have bothered me.  Although they're emotionally satisfying, like a view of cheerleaders shaking pom-poms, they tell me nothing new.  Coming back from the next commercial, I see a package replaying four successful three-point shots.  Whoopee.

It seems to me that basketball offenses nowadays rely less on advancing toward the hoop than on retreating behind the arc to launch those three-pointers.  Pitt won with 81 points.  Of those, two-thirds — a school-record 54 points — came from triples.


Back in my day, our TV graphics frequently were “team comparisons;” for example, overall field goal shooting.  Suppose that so far, Northwestern has made 12 of 19 attempts while Memphis is 9 for 20.

This is how ESPN graphics looked in the 2011-12 season.

On the right is a list of ESPN's available templates.  Maybe my coordinator decides that instead of the raw numbers (#301), the percentages (#300) would be easier to understand: Northwestern 63.2%, Memphis 45.0%.

Which category should we offer next to the director?  Perhaps, although three-point field goals were fairly equal at halftime, Memphis is shooting better now and #308 would be appropriate.

Says Eric Olson, co-developer of an AI tool called Consensus, “Writing is less than half of my job; most of my work is reading and deciding what's important enough for me to put in a paragraph.”

Could such choices be automated?

Even when I was a teenager, I thought it ought to be possible to do so.  Maybe the scoreboard in the arena could include a line displaying a different category every 30 seconds or so, based on relevance.  Oh, look, Ozzie, our bench players have outscored theirs 15 to nothing!

Before tipoff, we'd estimate what the numbers should be.  If enough data is available, this should be based on recent games against comparable opponents.  Perhaps Northwestern could be expected to score twice as many fast-break points per minute as Memphis but have similar numbers of blocked shots.  Then during the game, a stats computer would look at each category in turn, comparing the real numbers to expectations and calculating a WOW! factor.

Another factor could be how many minutes since we've shown a category.  Another could be the category's importance.  Turnovers are generally more relevant than the split between offensive and defensive rebounds.

The computer could add all the factors together to decide which category to display next.

 

JANUARY 16, 2023   
TWO THOUSAND MUG SHOTS

How did I spend last winter?  Looking for yearbook photos of my college classmates.

There were 660 from the Class of 1969.

Plus 685 members of the class before me.

And 669 from the class before that.

Most were easy to find, but some weren't.  A new article tells of my search for Cluster Pix.

 

JANUARY 20, 2013 flashback    HOW COULD ANYONE?

There are people who use social media to perversely claim to be someone they’re not.  Apparently Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o was drawn into one such hoax.  Because of his celebrity, when it was brought to light last week it caused a media sensation.

(Te’o wasn’t a completely innocent victim.  In particular, when his father embarrassed him by asking whether he’d ever even met his online friend, he said of course he had.  His father repeated his lies to other people, and the situation soon got out of control.)

How could anyone convince himself that a girl he had never seen in person was the “love of his life” until she died — when she never really existed?  I suspect the reason has to do with the fact that Te’o is very religious.

Journalist Dan Wetzel writes, “He is said to be a particularly devout Mormon from a sheltered upbringing who has a personality that seeks the finest in everyone he meets.  His speeches, his interviews, his sideline antics and his propensity to tear up at any moment are unusual for any young man, especially a football player.  It's not just the inflection in his voice — part preacher/part overwhelmed parishioner — it's also the content it delivers.  ... The guy is gullible.  He's naïve.  He's trusting in ways that nearly defy belief, almost wide-eyed in wonder at all sorts of things in life.”

Religious people do tend to be gullible.

Muslims are told that if they die a martyr’s death, 72 virgins will welcome them to heaven.  Some subscribe to this and strap on suicide bombs.

Mormons are told that their founder Joseph Smith unearthed a set of gold plates with ancient writing on them.  He stuck his face into a hat and “translated” them, after which the plates conveniently disappeared.  The translation became Mormon scripture.

Catholics are told that if they eat a certain wafer, they’re actually eating the flesh of a man who died over 2,000 years ago, and this is a good thing.

Christians in general are told that this Jesus isn’t really dead.  Now he takes a personal interest in them as individuals and has gone to heaven to prepare a place for them after they die.  Have they ever seen Jesus?  They’ve seen pictures.  When he died, were they there?  They’ve been told what happened.  Have they talked to him?  They’ve prayed.

How could anyone believe these tall tales?  It’s because they have faith.  They don’t want to question what they’ve been told, however unlikely it may seem to the rest of us, because it can be a great comfort to them.

 

JANUARY 16, 2023    POLICE CARS EVERYWHERE

Two weeks ago in my apartment, I turned on the local evening news to discover that there was massive police activity taking place at that moment, less than half a mile down the hill!  My town's police chief had been murdered!

Soon I learned that less than a quarter mile away, a car of the same model as mine had been stolen at gunpoint!  Needless to say, I double-locked my doors.  The encounter was a little too close for comfort.

The gunman was eventually cornered and killed.  Later, thousands of my neighbors Remembering Chief McIntire turned out for the funeral. 

 

JANUARY 13, 2023    MILD HYPOTHERMIA

“It's freezing out there.  Wear your warm socks.  You don't want to catch cold!”

In this month's 100 Moons article from two decades ago, I posited that a chill (“B”) might temporarily cause you to experience symptoms (“T”) commonly associated with the common cold (“V”), but the presence of those symptoms (“T”) doesn't necessarily mean that you've actually been infected by the virus (“V”).

To read more, click this box for a classic article I posted to this website more than a hundred months ago.

For evidence, sadistic scientists cooled the feet of college students to 50°F for 20 minutes.  The experimenters' conclusion?  “The present study supports the folklore that exposure to chilling may cause the onset of common cold symptoms, perhaps by some change in respiratory defense caused by reflex vasoconstriction of the blood vessels of the upper airways.  However, the study does not provide any objective evidence, such as virology, that the subjects were infected with a common cold virus.”

True, winter colds are going around.  But often the actual culprit is not low temperature but high temperature, as found among sniffling chattering folks crowded unmasked into the dry air of an overheated room.  That situation leads to easy viral transmission.

 

JANUARY 10, 2023    CAN WE EXPECT OUR SPAN?

Thousands of years ago, the Bible's Psalm 90:10 noted that “the years of our life are threescore and ten, or even by reason of strength fourscore.”

For millennia, the intrinsic biological Life Span of humans has remained more or less constant at about 79 years.  According to historian Walter Scheidel in this article, “The life span of humans hasn't really changed much at all, as far as I can tell.”

However, that's Life Span, defined as the best-case maximum number of years that an individual of a given species can survive.

There's also a different statistical construct called Life Expectancy, defined as not the maximum but the average number of years that an individual can be expected to survive.

Many statistical quantities follow a bell-shaped curve called a “normal distribution.”  The average value is in the middle, balanced by values of lesser likelihood on either side.

Of course, not all stats work this way.  In particular, Life Expectancy follows a distribution that's non-normal.

 

 
On their “Omnibus” podcast, John Roderick and Ken Jennings mentioned that, at the turn of the last century, the Life Expectancy for Black Americans was not very great.


________JOHN:  If in 1900 the Life Expectancy
_______was 30 years old, does that reflect —
KEN:  It means for every person who died at 80__
there was somebody else dying at negative 20.___

Ken's facetious reasoning assumes that the graph should be a normal-distribution bell curve like this.

(80  +  –20) / 2 = 30

However, the graph ought to look more like this, skewed by a high rate of childhood mortality.

We could say that for every person who died at 60 there was somebody else dying at birth (age 0).

(60  +  0) / 2 = 30

Americans' Life Expectancy has been gradually improving, and by 2019 that statistic had managed to equal the biological Life Span of 79 years. 

Unfortunately, by 2021 it had fallen to 76, due mostly to the pandemic but also due to heart and liver diseases, accidents, and drug overdoses.

 

JANUARY 7, 2023   
MEET ME AT THE 5K 100T "SCOTT"

In 1971, I was still living in Ohio State Buckeye country when Indiana University welcomed a new basketball coach to Bloomington (a 1962 OSU graduate, the traitor) and opened its brand-new Assembly Hall.

Any time that Ohio State was visiting, the games were televised from Assembly Hall back to Columbus, of course.  But they looked odd.

Also, always in the background behind the players, there was a weird white wall.

The wall was curved — low in the middle for the front-row fans, but higher on the ends to allow for entryways.  Those portals had scoreboards above them, just like Ohio State's St. John Arena.

When the building was being designed, IU officials had insisted on having only a few rows of bleachers behind the baskets.  For a better fan experience, most of the 17,000 seats are stacked along the sidelines.  Therefore those sides are very steep, including balconies high up in the rafters.

It's not practical to locate the main television cameras way up there.  Instead, a camera location was established in the seventh row, indicated below by an X.  On television, the low angle did make us feel we had great seats, almost at courtside, but it didn't provide the whole-court overview we usually expect.

Since then, I believe TV broadcasters have relocated their cameras to a position about halfway up the lower deck, eliminating a few seats in the process.  Telecasts from Indiana now resemble all others.

Recently, however, I noticed that a name has been painted on the court, apparently identifying the building as the SIMON 5K 100T Assembly Hall.

I had to do some research.  Who was Simon, and why does his five-kilometer race have a hundred turns?  It must consist of 25 laps around half the football field, or something like that.

It turns out that Mel Simon was a shopping mall magnate who owned the NBA's Indiana Pacers.  He left a fortune to his daughter Cynthia, a 1980 IU graduate.  She married Paul Skjodt, a former hockey player with a Danish name.  (It's supposed to be the 2,689,253rd most common surname in the world and is pronounced “Scott.”)

For the past 30 years, Cindy Simon Skjodt “has followed in her father's legacy of generosity, often honoring her parents through her donations” to help hospitals, museums, medical research, and underserved youth and families.  In 2013 she donated $40 million to renovate and improve the hall.

Here we see her at the dedication game, which took place six years ago tonight.

So now I realize, and closer inspection reveals, that the name isn't 5K 100T but actually SKJODT.

 

JANUARY 4, 2023    MANNIXPHONE

In 1967, my parents had a rotary-dial Princess telephone on the nightstand between their twin beds.

Meanwhile on TV, a well-equipped private eye had one in his car, between his bucket seats!

Learn more about it in The Roadster and the Clock.

 

JANUARY 1, 2023    KILLER WHALE

True story:  One of 2022's many mass murderers bought a pistol one day, wrote a paranoid suicide note, and then shot ten Walmart colleagues and himself.  In the note, the evil manager reassured God that the upcoming massacre was not God's fault.  “I was one of the most loving people in the world....  I just wanted a wife that was equally yoked [to Christ] as I.”  However, it was “like I was led by the Satan.”  He used words that he had apparently never seen spelled out, accusing his co-workers of mocking him as they “orcastraighted” his “down fall.”

 

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