Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Internal Programming Note

This time it's an actual program!

Okay, so apparently I will be doing a lot of soccer work in the future. Not necessarily here, but I've decided I want to do a soccer podcast. I missed the World Cup window I was really hoping to hit on the book, and I figure my odds of success just took a hit because of that, so I want to parlay things into something more immediately consumable (and monetizable, hi advertisers!) just in case. A lot of research prep work is pre-done, so there's that at least. I've yet to give it a name, but I'm going over the basic concept of what I'm attempting to do with a potential co-host. I'm hoping to take an expansive view of the sport- not just the major leagues, though I certainly won't turn my nose up at suitable material out of them- and while I'm perfectly fine recapping a game or making day-to-day sports talk, I'm more comfortable discussing the bigger picture. The state of soccer in a given location. Histories of clubs or players or the places in which they play. The myriad ways in which the antics of 22 men and a ball permeate large swaths of the world in which we live, very often in areas of that world that aren't likely to win or even qualify for the World Cup anytime soon.

I went over topics that I might have wanted to do for a fictional sample episode a few days ago, and the things I, at least, gravitated towards were:

*The upcoming MLS All-Star Game, how it compares with other soccer all-star games (yes, they exist), and the use of a league-spanning team playing a marquee overseas opponent when individual clubs are playing them themselves.
*This match-fixer in Singapore being jailed for offering prostitutes as bribes to referees from Lebanon, and a 99-cent-version overview of Singapore's role in match-fixing.
*This suite of rulings from UEFA, regarding events in Russia, Ukraine and Israel, and the various matters and stories surrounding each, one of which I've already brought up on this blog.

I imagine lighter fare would be coming in other episodes, but it's a pretty heavy sample group. And of course, this leaves out anything my co-host would want to tackle, as it'd be his show too.

We have both vowed that what we are not going to do is turn this into one more sports-jock screamfest. I think we've all seen quite enough of those. Discussion's fine, disagreement is fine, that is what talking sports is built on after all, but it's not like disagreement has to exist or even be a relevant concept when bringing up a topic. There's nothing wrong with merely stating fact and providing context.

You know. News.

This, though, all assumes I learn how to operate audio equipment, as I have zero experience with audio and this is a hell of a way to get an education on it. All I can say about that is I'll do my best to not make us both sound like staticy alien robots. Wish me luck. Well, wish us luck, anyway.

Monday, July 28, 2014

TED Talk Night

Tonight I've got a guy named Simon Anholt for you, speaking in June in Berlin, speaking about his creation of a metric called the Good Country Index. Or if you don't want to hear him talk, you can see his explanation at the index's website.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

A Twitter Account Perhaps Worth Following

@congressedits. CongressEdits is a bot, created earlier this month, that automatically tweets anonymous edits to Wikipedia from IP addresses originating from Congress. You may have heard the occasional story over the years about some office or other getting caught editing their own page or something that they disagree with politically. That was about the only way you'd hear of it previously. Here, everyone's getting caught red-handed every time.

Not that you'd always characterize it as 'getting caught red-handed'; after all, a lot of the edits are as benign as everyone else's. Choco Taco, for example. But there's enough precedent in place that it's worth sifting through the benign edits to find the suspicious ones.

How does Wikipedia feel about this new account? Well, they've since banned Congress from editing for 10 days, so it can probably be assumed that they appreciate the heads-up.

They may also appreciate the legislative editbots that have since popped up in other countries that thought, hey, that's a hell of an idea there; we'd like to catch anonymous edits too:

*Australia (@AussieParlEdits)
*Canada (@gccaedits)
*Chile (@EstadoEdita)
*Denmark (@FTingetWikiEdit)
*France (@wikiAssemblee)
*Germany (@reichstagedits)
*Ireland (@IrishGovEdits)
*Israel (@israeledits)
*Italy (@Parlamento_Wiki)
*Lithuania (@LRSwikiedits)
*Netherlands (@2dekameredits)
*Russia (@RuGovEdits_en)
*South Africa (@parlizaedits)
*Sweden (@RiksdagWikiEdit)
*Switzerland (@swissgovedit)
*Ukraine (@UaGovEdits_en)
*United Kingdom (@parliamentedits, and they were actually around first, but I am American and therefore neener neener)

And as if that wasn't enough, nongovernmental editbots have also popped up, such as for the CIA (@ciaedits), oil companies/defense contractors (@oiledits), pharmaceutical companies (@phrmaedits), Goldman Sachs (@goldmanedits), and Monsanto (@monsantoedits). I'm sure this isn't going to be the last of them; a pretty good approximation of the list as it stands can be found here. And if you want to make a new one, the source code is here.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Idiots On The Field: Competitive Cycling Edition

I've written here about what happens when you run onto the field during a sporting event: basically, you become free game for anyone on that field who feels like laying you out, and then you get hauled off by security. In most sports, there are also some physical barriers keeping you from reaching the field: fences, gravity, the like.

In a bike race, this isn't always possible to do. Once a race nears the finish line, the barrier walls show up, and immediately surrounding important sections of the course, but by and large it's quite simply a prohibitive effort to cover each and every foot of a course, especially if it's a long-distance race like the Tour de France and stages routinely top 100 miles in length. Barriers 100 miles long going up and then coming back down every single day for three weeks isn't happening... but that isn't stopping Jon Gugala of Deadspin from fretting about it after the all-but-winner-we're-just-waiting-for-it-to-be-official of this year's Tour, Italy's Vincenzo Nibali, sideswiped a fan on the side of the road who had her back to the action so she could take a selfie. The cell phone went flying.

At least, Nibali's the presumptive winner for now. We'll see if he's still the winner a couple years from now after all the drug tests come in. Because a lot of people don't trust a damn thing that happens in that race anymore and for good reason.

You can't put barriers up over the entire course, but putting them up along more of the course than presently happens, sections likely to be heavily populated, well... maybe that'd be something worth worrying about. After all, fans colliding with the athletes in a bike race is going to have a tangible effect on the race, because the athlete's going to fall down go boom and get passed by a bunch of people or lose a bunch of time getting back into rhythm. He may even need to swap bikes, or if he gets hurt badly enough, withdraw from the race entirely.

As Jens Voigt of Germany, who is competing in his 17th Tour this year, explains it:

In fact, lots of athletes could fall down go boom, such as this incident 6 miles out from the end of a Tour stage.

On the other hand... if you collide with a bike, your punishment comes pretty much immediately, because a guy riding his bike as fast as he can just plowed into your stupid ass. You're going down too... such as the most egregious spectator crash possibly of all time, this guy from the 1999 Tour who wrecked Giuseppe Guerini (who wasn't prevented from winning the stage).

Some more reasons to stay the hell back on a bike race course, you say?

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Adventures In Polling

Yesterday, Walt Hickey of 538 ran a fun little thing about the popularity of various Star Wars movies and characters. They ran the survey themselves online via a place called SurveyMonkey, which should probably tell you something about the scientific validity, but it's just Star Wars and not a Presidential horserace poll or anything really important so who cares, honestly. Among the things we 'learned': people like the original trilogy more than the new one, Luke Skywalker is the most popular character and, as you'd probably expect, Jar Jar Binks is the least popular. (Also learned: 39% of respondents thought Han shot first, with 24% thinking Greedo shot first. Han did in the original; Greedo had a first shot inserted in the 1997 remake.)

Fun. Silly.

And then Christopher Ingraham of the Washington Post got hold of it. As far as I can tell, he looks to be the genesis here, though it's possible that someone else got there first. Ingraham decided to compare 538's popularity ratings of the Star Wars characters with popularity ratings of actual, flesh-and-blood politicians, and of course nobody in real life did too well. He opted to chop out the ratings of Princess Leia, Obi-Wan Kenobi, R2-D2, C-3P0, Anakin Skywalker, Lando Calrissian and Padme Amidala- all of which were more popular than all the humans- and went straight for the high-rating Luke, Han Solo and Yoda, mid-table Darth Vader (of course he's midtable, because Vader's a badass), and the lowest-ranking character that beat or tied all the humans, Boba Fett (who drew even with top human Hillary Clinton). And then the humans get rattled off, with Emperor Palpatine wedged in between Marco Rubio and Paul Ryan, more humans, and then Jar-Jar slotting in between Rick Santorum and John Boehner, and then the rest of the human contingent, with 'Congress' bringing up the rear.

And then Ingraham, clearly flying into the 'if 538 said it you can accept it at face value' bug zapper, goes right for the headline "Darth Vader is polling higher than all potential 2016 presidential candidates". Ha ha, how wacky, weep for the smoldering ruins of your country, America, be afraid, be very afraid. And of course the fringe blog set went and had their fun, though USA Today piled on too, because 538 yo, they're NEVER wrong. I'm not even going to reward the rest of them with a link.

Because this entire premise is founded on crap. You'll notice I haven't given the actual numbers of the Star Wars characters and real-life politicians. That is why. They mean nothing sitting next to each other and it would be adding misinformation to the world to put them next to each other. So I won't do it.

The problem is simple. If you are going to compare approval ratings of disparate entities such as this, you need to do it in the same poll, asking the same group of people. That is the only way to eliminate all the variables, up to and including what the respondents think when they're asked about the relative popularity of real and fictional people. (Never mind that the respondents could very well start giving joke answers once they see what the survey is trying to pull on them, because respondents often view such enterprises as wastes of their time and answer accordingly.)

538 was using a fairly informal poll on SurveyMonkey (even if they did supply the raw data). The actual politicians were polled seriously, using Gallup and using what is almost certainly a 100% different group of people, of wildly different demographics. The two simply do not equate. You've basically taken some random one-off Internet poll and mistaken it for the Pulse Of The Nation.

This just frustrates me to no end. There are people that bust their asses, day in and day out, to make numbers mean something. People that crunch data, make double-super-positive sure that the mix of people they're asking is reflective of their target constituency, explain it in the most accessible and thorough manner possible. Many of those people work for 538, which is why even a silly poll such as this came with the raw data of every single respondent attached, and why they were asked basic demographic questions: home region, income level, education level, age and gender. For all that data to be completely flushed down the toilet because some guy ignored all the numbers except Darth Vader's end approval rating in one poll, the presidential candidates' approval ratings in a completely different poll, and the number 538, and posted it and had people take those disparate end numbers at face value drives me crazy.

56% of those responding to a phone survey in Ellensburg, Washington favored the building of a new middle school. Meanwhile, 56% of respondents in a poll of MLB players before this season declared Mike Trout as the best player in baseball. Therefore, Mike Trout and a middle school in Ellensburg, Washington are equally popular, right?

The difference between my comparison and Ingraham's is that you can more plainly see how stupid mine is.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Today's Dumb Thing I Learned Is A Thing


That is, jumping off a pier or a harbor wall into the sea. It seems to be the coastal British press that has to deal with this, chiefly, and that's where the term is residing. It's not any sort of a new craze or anything, not by a longshot. The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents has a whole page and everything on it, a signifier of how often they have to deal with this that they had to make a page for it.

There are two major problems here: first, you probably don't know what's under that water or how deep it is. The lifeguard who jumps in after you knows, but you don't. Second, you don't know if there's a riptide waiting to drag you out to sea... which is why the lifeguard will be jumping in after you. And this doesn't cover the potential shock of cold water, or your ability to swim away even if you don't get pulled out to sea (two more reasons for said lifeguard).

Now, this is not to say it isn't an inherently bad thing to jump. Recently in Ocean Beach, CA, about 600 kids jointly jumped off a 30-foot pier. But there's a reason they did it: they were junior lifeguards in a four-week water safety training program, they were under the watchful eye of real lifeguards that, again, knew exactly what the conditions were at water level, and it was done with the express purpose of training them not to be afraid of the water. They paid a $75 donation to the Junior Lifeguard Foundation to get to do it. Their parents jumped too.

I hope I should not have to tell you not to try it.

All The Noises

Are you tired of attempting to categorize songs into some type of genre? Are you sick of attempting to determine whether a song is pop, rock, country, country pop, pop rock, indie pop, indie rock, or possibly something that has the word 'metal', 'house' or 'punk' in it?

I'm not sure how exactly you're going to take today's link.

There's a man named Glenn McDonald at the site Echo Nest. What he's done is create a scatter plot of 1,251 different musical genres. Each genre is clickable, presenting you with a sample song (hover over it with the mouse to find out what song that is), and from there, you'll see similar genres nearby. He has called this plot Every Noise At Once. Click the arrows that show up next to a genre's name, and you'll see another plot of artists grouped under that heading.

Then he went and did other things with it, such as show what cities are prevalent in producing. For instance, London is responsible for 28.3% of the genre labeled 'talent show', because it appears to encompass X-Factor alumni, including One Direction, and that's largely based in London.

Then there's a second genre called 'more talent show', which appears to cover alumni from The Voice, and a third called 'idol', which, well, you should be able to guess that one and probably recognize a lot of names on the plot.

I'll be hunkered over this thing for a long time now, if you don't mind.