Assorted links

by on June 22, 2014 at 12:36 pm in Uncategorized | Permalink

1. Hachette, Amazon, and lock-in effects through DRM.

2. The vanishing prank call.

3. On the origins of Yiddish.

4 The economics of transition for a new Scottish state (pdf).

5. Two professional soccer players vs. 55 children (video, recommended).

6. Walmart defends itself.

derek June 22, 2014 at 1:06 pm

An acquaintance who hangs around the hockey arena and plays goal any time he can had the opportunity to be in goal when an NHL player was practicing. The player grew up in town, was home for the summer, and wanted to shoot some pucks.

He said the shots came so fast he couldn’t see them and couldn’t react in time, and the ones he blocked he regretted even with the thick padding.

He said he would do it again, and sported a huge grin for weeks.

mucgoo June 22, 2014 at 1:14 pm

Personal experience of school PE (age 15/16) against a now premiership footballer was you need three athletic people to get the ball off him or force a pass.

dearieme June 22, 2014 at 1:45 pm

Rugby: I played against an international player once. Watching him play, I’d seen a chap who ran in straight lines, a strong tackler with a weak kick. Playing against him revealed him to be skilful, agile and possessed of a howitzer kick.

Cricket: in my one match on a hard Australian wicket, I was dismissed by a ball so fast that I couldn’t see it.

Finch June 23, 2014 at 2:16 pm

My U-19 team (we were very good by local standards) had a practice with the New Zealand All Blacks, who were on some sort of tour. It was like they were from a different planet. I stood no chance of containing, or conversely getting past, the smallest of them under almost any circumstance.

npm June 25, 2014 at 2:14 pm

I played tennis in college, albeit as a Division III benchwarmer. The top players on the team could beat me pretty easily, but I’d usually get a few games off them. Right after graduation I went to a pro tennis tournament and saw a player standing alone by the practice court; his partner hadn’t shown up, so I volunteered to warm up with him. As we were hitting, he complemented my strokes. Then he asked to take some serves. Top male pros serve around 120-130 mph, and the better on my college team served probably about 100-110 mph. I knew I wouldn’t be able to get good swings on his serves, but figured I’d be able to block them back.

I couldn’t touch them, so just stood by the back of the fence, picked them and hit them back.

That guy lost in the first round of the qualifying tournament.

Z June 22, 2014 at 2:36 pm

Back in the olden thymes I was a pretty good baseball player. Early in my high school career I got the chance to catch a AAA pitcher. I went into thinking I would have no trouble. The first pitch was on top of me so fast I was knocked off balance. It took a bunch of pass balls before I got used to how to handle his breaking stuff.

mkt June 22, 2014 at 3:12 pm

Back in the 1980s a friend was watching a pickup basketball game in Boston and reported what happened when a player from the Celtics showed up. He was so much faster, more athletic, and more agile than the other players that it seemed like he was playing a different sport.

The player turned out to be Scott Wedman, who by that time was old and slow by NBA standards, and mainly hung around the 3-point line to shoot outside shots after the defense had collapsed on Bird, McHale, et al. But compared to non-NBA players, he was Michael Jordan (or LeBron James).

byomtov June 22, 2014 at 4:10 pm

I think that, no matter what the game, it is difficult to appreciate how really good the top players are, and how much better than those just below the top class. AAA baseball players probably understand much better than most the difference between themselves and major leaguers.

I think it’s a matter of perspective. If you’re a mile away you can’t make out differences of a few feet. Up close you can.

Just my theory.

William Newman June 22, 2014 at 4:29 pm

two remarks on “no matter what the game”…

It’s not necessarily only games: see http://lesswrong.com/lw/ua/the_level_above_mine/ for some related observations.

Some games have rating systems that tend to make it clearer. I am rated 3 dan in the American Go Association. The scale on the rankings is very tangible (not just a statistical fit to winning ratio as in ELO ratings for chess and other games), similar to handicap in golf, so I know roughly how many free unopposed moves a strong player could afford to give me at the beginning of the game before starting to play. For the pros (and even with various exceedingly strong amateurs) it’s an impressive number.

byomtov June 22, 2014 at 7:16 pm

You are right that it’s not just games, of course.

Even in games with good rating systems, and some stink, the numbers only provide a sort of mechanical measure of skill. That’s incomplete, and different, it seems to me, from a visceral grasp of just how good a player really is.

wiki June 23, 2014 at 4:41 am

Of course it also depends on the structure of the game. In Go, a star player can give a 10 stone handicap to lots of strong amateurs and win easily. In chess, I doubt that even Carlsen would win the majority of games played against strong amateurs at a queen handicap, especially if the amateurs were well coached in how to handle queen odds openings.

Peter Hornby June 25, 2014 at 1:29 pm

Back in my (English) college days at Oxford, I was a keen but incompetent cricket player. I played occasionally for a second-tier representative team, but there were players who were dramatically (and sometimes embarrassingly) better than I was. That said, we occasionally pulled in a ringer from the first-tier team, who was in a different league, in every aspect of this play. Just really great to watch.

This guy (let’s call him Simon) tried to make it in professional cricket in England. He played a few games for a county (the county teams are the bread and butter of the English first-class game), but didn’t make it, and settled for a reasonable career in what cricket calls Minor Counties – the second tier of English professional cricket.

So, at the level where Simon failed to make it, there are hundreds of professionals who play the county game who will never even be considered as as potential international cricketers. But, put them out against a Sunday afternoon club team, and it will be like night and day. They will totally dominate.

And, to my mind, there are two levels of skill beyond that – the international-level players, and, beyond that, the geniuses – the people who repeatedly do things which make you say “How on earth did he do that?”.

What interests me is how the geniuses get to be so much better than the people at the next level below them, who are, in turn, dramatically better than almost everyone who has ever played their game.

Jaunty Rockefeller June 25, 2014 at 11:09 pm

I was a benchwarmer for my high school basketball team. We were fairly good, and a couple of our top players ended up on Division III rosters a few years later. Our archrival featured a kid who was the son of a former NBAer who had grown up in Italy and returned to the States just a few years earlier–Kobe Bryant. Playing him his senior year–which was one year before he’d be an NBA all star–was laughable. But what was more incredible was what happened during the state playoffs. After his team dispatched us, they played a team that had another highly touted player, Rick Hamilton, who would go on to lead UConn to a college title, followed by leading the Pistons to an NBA championship. The game between Kobe’s Lower Merion team and Hamilton’s Coatesville team was billed as a showdown between two of the top high school prospects in the nation, but Kobe completely undressed Rip. Even then, and as good as Rip was and would become, Kobe was just operating on a different level. Bigger, faster, stronger, more skilled. There was nothing on the court that he couldn’t do, even when playing against someone who was a future professional all star.

Gene June 22, 2014 at 1:15 pm

As per the Walmart link. Seems like all (for the most part) are good counter-points to the NY Times article (yes, that is relative and they are not necessarily air-tight) BUT it seems like the last “defense” is one they should have let pass—it is quite well documented (correct me if wrong) that they applied pressure in the 90’s for companies to move off-shore.

dan1111 June 22, 2014 at 1:46 pm

This claim is floating around the internet, but it seems to refer back to this article, which doesn’t actually say that:

http://www.fastcompany.com/47593/wal-mart-you-dont-know

All this article claims is that some companies have chosen to move manufacturing overseas in order to sell goods competitively to Walmart, not that Walmart has told them to do so.

Gene June 23, 2014 at 12:04 pm

Thanks for the link. I appreciate it.

chuck martel June 22, 2014 at 1:52 pm

It’s pointless to criticize failing businesses like Sears, Montgomery Ward, Kmart, Radio Shack and scores of others. The successful entities are the ones that deserve approbation from the mindless. Writer Timothy Egan describes them as “corporate overlords”. Nobody is forced to work or shop at Walmart. But when the government comes up with some program we all have to accept and pay for it, like it or not, ethanol in our motor fuel, for instance.

The Other Jim June 23, 2014 at 6:54 am

Or, let’s say, forcing 54-year-old widows to buy pediatric dental insurance.

Talk about “overlords.”

Thomas June 22, 2014 at 1:15 pm

#5: The inequality debate. Cut off their legs.

dearieme June 22, 2014 at 1:48 pm

Yiddish: I know what klutz and bagel mean – a clumsy fellow, and an inedible comestible.

Douglas Knight June 22, 2014 at 1:58 pm

There ought to be a lot less lock-in with books than with music. Most books are read only once.

Also, DRM is not much lock-in, since amazon books are available on most devices. Switching bookstores just means switching apps. The exception is e-book hardware. It’s a hassle to get even DRM-free books onto a kindle. That’s much more important than the additional difficulties of getting competing DRM books onto it. Yes, the more books Hachette sold through amazon, the harder it would be to get customers to switch to a physical nook. Whereas Apple made it easy to get music onto an ipod. Indeed, the ipod predated Apple selling music.

Z June 22, 2014 at 2:40 pm

That’s what I was thinking. I’d bet 99% of books are read once by the buyer. That’s probably why e-book sales have stalled.

Michael Cain June 22, 2014 at 7:12 pm

Yes, the bigger problem with Amazon is the difficulty of getting other content onto the kindle. TTBOMK, all of the e-book DRMs in common use have been broken, although many users may consider the process(es) inconvenient. At the risk of inviting a lawsuit, a clear-text version of every DRM’ed e-book I purchase goes on back-up media. I don’t give away copies, but I’ll be damned if I’ll risk losing something as concrete as a data file because some company goes out of business.

Nick M June 22, 2014 at 9:38 pm

“It’s a hassle to get even DRM-free books onto a kindle.”

It’s trivially easy to get DRM-free books onto a Kindle. You can either plug the Kindle into your computer and copy the file over or send it to the email address listed in the settings (free at least over wifi). I’ve done this with dozens of DRM-free books and never had a problem. With an update that came out over the winter the DRM-free books I’ve sent to my Kindle now even sync with my Kindle Android app.

I honestly find it baffling that Amazon has made it so easy to use the Kindle to read pirated content.

Komori June 23, 2014 at 9:10 am

Why assume that DRM-free e-books are pirated? Baen sells DRM free e-books. Project Gutenberg offers free e-books of works that are out of copyright. There’s plenty of legitimate content without DRM.

That said, it is trivially easy to put them on a Kindle. I use Calibre, which also has a module that will automatically strip the Amazon DRM from e-books you buy so you can actually use them.

Rationalist June 22, 2014 at 2:21 pm

“1. Hachette, Amazon, and lock-in effects through DRM.”

Hoisted by their own petard – it’s beautiful. I hope Hachette goes bankrupt.

derek June 22, 2014 at 2:21 pm

#1 Is this Legal encroaching on Sales again? You would think that the collapse of the music industry would be a lesson. Unless you are in Legal.

albert magnus June 22, 2014 at 3:55 pm

#5. I don’t know what the rules are with 3-5 goalies, but the professionals looked off sides to me on both goals.

Also, Japanese do a lot of fun TV stuff. Underrated television country.

AIG June 22, 2014 at 6:02 pm

Pretty sure no one was playing by the rules there. They seemed to be off-side on the first goal. Then again, pretty sure you’re not allowed 55 players on the field either ;)

diplo June 22, 2014 at 6:47 pm

But the lack of offsides make this not an actual soccer contest. Even ignoring the offsides, the pros expended a lot of energy. Could they keep that up for 90 minutes? With no offsides, the pros have no chance of preventing a goal once they lose possession if the kids assigned 10 players maybe to a relay passing line downfield.

William June 22, 2014 at 9:42 pm

On the grand scale of things fundamental to soccer, wouldn’t you say that one team having 55 players while the other has only two is a bigger factor in making it “not an actual soccer contest”?

But if you are determined to be a stickler in applying the rest of the rules, then because of the three goalies, neither goal involved an offside.

alex June 22, 2014 at 10:23 pm

Both goals look onside to me even if there was only one goalie.

David Wright June 22, 2014 at 11:19 pm

The official formulation of offside rule specifies there must be at least two defenders ahead of the most forward offender. Typically one of those defenders is the goalie, so people imagine that the rule is that there must be one (non-goalie) defender ahead of the most forward offender. In this case, though, there are three or more child goalies, so (unless all but one of them of them rush forward to create an offsides trap) it’s basically impossible for the pros to be offsides.

Art Deco June 22, 2014 at 4:49 pm

#4: Finding fault:

1. No thought to the possibility that Scotland might elect to eschew the EU, the United Nations, or NATO.

2. Other than some mention of erecting a central bank for Scotland, no discussion of the process of disentangling the financial systems of the two countries.

machiavelli June 22, 2014 at 5:15 pm

#5

Those kids need to learn to play dirty. Even after the penalty kicks they can dominate against two hurt players.

Michael Cain June 22, 2014 at 7:01 pm

How about just “those kids need to learn to play.” A ridiculous number of them are, effectively, just chasing the ball.

Dan Weber June 23, 2014 at 8:10 am

A number of them seemed to be trying to form walls, but ineffectively.

buddyglass June 23, 2014 at 1:11 pm

With 55 players they could afford to take a lot of red cards. AIM FOR THE GROIN, LADS.

Matt June 22, 2014 at 6:04 pm

#3 – A generally interesting and well crafted article on a scholar and the history of a language. Of course, some of this article is actually quite funny. Examples:

– The Tablet Magazine v Schmaltz moment where the journalist carefully points out that, yes, the medieval Jews did self segregate, and that the Jewish districts were often privileged at the heart of urban life (not exiled to the margins), and that modern attempts to rationalize this away can become absurd.

– The hoisting of the nutty Khazar / Slavic hypothesis… except that this is completely contrary to the genetic data that places the population as a mix of East Mediterranean and Italian, with a sharp bottleneck and huge expansion in the early medieval period.

– The befuddlement about why a particular community of Jews with a particular relationship to wealth and monopoly on highly lucrative activities in a particular region would be able to expand in a demographically massive when when other Jewish populations didn’t. Yet this is entirely what the genetic data say happened.

So Much for Subtlety June 22, 2014 at 6:41 pm

It is always weird when you see evidence for theories that you thought are so out of left field that no sane person ought to entertain them. The Khazar hypothesis is certainly right up there.

But …. sentences that start that way are never good are they? The point of the article, covered very briefly, is that the DNA seems to suggest that Ashkenazi Levites are not Middle Eastern but Turkic and Slavic. Now the hurdle this sort of claim has to jump is very high, so I don’t think this article manages to do it. But someone like David Goldstein is not no one. His views ought to be at least considered.

The Jews of the shtetls were wealthy? That would be an interesting claim. I don’t think many people would agree with you on the evidence we have. Certainly not by the late 19th century at any rate. This is probably the second weakest part of the article though. The self-segregation was much more interesting.

Clover June 23, 2014 at 2:10 am

They were certainly wealthier than the surrounding non-Jewish population

They claim some kind of “demographic miracle” it would be a miracle to them that the average growth rate would be a grand total of 0.34% growth a year.

So Much for Subtlety June 23, 2014 at 5:27 am

I don’t know what that certainly is doing there. They may have been. But very few descriptions of shtetl life would even suggest it.

Matt June 23, 2014 at 3:29 am

My understanding is there are some interesting R1a y-dna haplogroups which Levites which frequently tend to be associated with which are frequently associated with Iranians, however the overall autosome of the Ashkenazis is strongly supportive of the conventional Rhineland, plus bottleneck, plus demographic miracle story.

It would be good to explain how these groups haplogroups entered the Ashkenazis (perhaps they did through some Eastern European precursor population which otherwise hasn’t left much of a genetic imprint), but the Ashkenazis are in no way in a group of Slavic or Turkic origins across their autosome, and the Ashkenazis Levites, other than their tendency towards unusual y-dna groups, are otherwise genetically typical for them.

The Jews of the shtetls were wealthy? There are data on this, but even in the 19th century and the period and area of the shtetls (which is not necessarily the main period of demographic growth here) they held many more mercantile and non-agricultural jobs. And this is differences of 25-50% of the population at least. Whether this led to them being much wealthier as a group, I can’t quantify. Where would you expect people with mercantile jobs to sit in wealth compared to 19th century Polish farmers?

So Much for Subtlety June 22, 2014 at 7:20 pm

Re Amazon and Hachette – it is interesting that the people missing from that Guardian article are the authors. Interesting because it is the Guardian which used to be attached to the workers of the hand and mind keeping the full value of the products of their labor.

Not so much any more.

I have never really been able to see the point of publishing companies. Like the big music companies, their job seems to be to get in between the producer and the consumer and to make consumption as difficult as possible. I would love to see a proper look at the accounts of publishers because they do so little and yet take so much without make particularly large profits. It can’t all go on hookers and cocaine as with the music business.

Still, if Amazon wants to force them to be more efficient, or simply go bust, I think we ought to encourage them. It is not as if the publishers are good at spotting good books anyway.

Willitts June 22, 2014 at 9:17 pm

2. We have the internet now.

dirk June 23, 2014 at 12:40 am

3. What a great article. Reads like some lost Borges short story.

Tom June 23, 2014 at 3:43 am

re Yiddish, I’m glad to see I’m not the only ultrageek fascinated by the debate.

My few cents worth —

Ultimately the main route of immigration to Europe was via the Hellenic Black Sea cities during the classical era. No other proposed route has as much evidence or plausibility.

There is no reason for modern Jews to feel attacked by the suggestion that Khazar Jews were an important part of the foundation of European Jewry. The Khazar capital was a former Hellenic city whose Jewish community were just as Jewish as those on the west side of the Black Sea. Jews have always intermarried with non Jews and nobody serious could contend that European Jews have even half holy land genes. That said, there’s no reason to blow out of proportion the importance of the khazar Jewish community in the foundation of European jewry. There were many other Hellenic black sea cities that hosted Jewish diaspora.

The 10th century Kiev letter is a crucial piece of evidence. It is the oldest direct evidence of northern European Jews. it shows that Hebrew was still used by then at least formally and khazaria was the regional Jewish center to which Kiev’s jews looked for aid.

I also think it’s high time to ditch the silly ‘Ashkenazi’ Jewish label for northern European Jews. The Ashkenaz were a people of what is now Armenia, called Ishkuza by the Assyrians and Urartians, and Skuthoi or Skuthenoi by ancient Greeks (the most accessible description is in Xenophon’s Anabasis). The misapplication to northern Europe stems from a wildly mistaken interpretation of the table of nations by Josephus, for whom the true Ashkenaz were already lost history. European Jews have nothing whatsoever to do with the Ashkenaz.

rayward June 23, 2014 at 7:06 am

6. I’m not so sure the red ink editor’s pen is the best way for Walmart to make its case. Anyone who writes for a living knows what I mean when I say that seeing an editor’s red ink is like hearing someone scratch her fingernails across a chalk board. It even has a name: the red pen effect or the power of the red pen. Paternalism and bullying also come to mind.

TMC June 23, 2014 at 12:11 pm

I took it more as commentary that NYT’s editors should have been doing this.

Dave Tufte June 29, 2014 at 2:47 pm

I also had an experience with a professional playing in a non-professional setting.

In 1988-9 I played on a ball hockey team in Buffalo. Our team was lousy, but we picked up a guy who had just been cut by the Rochester Americans (an AHL team).

The guys “puck”-handling abilities and other stickwork made the rest of us look like we weren’t moving.

In retrospect though, I wonder if the guy needed a sports psychologist. Watching him was a little like an American watching Europeans play soccer: why on Earth don’t they just take a shot and see if they can make something happen? This guy seemed unable to send the “puck” towards the net. It was weird.

AXJ June 30, 2014 at 1:26 pm

A different sport: A guy I knew was a competitive amateur race car driver in New Zealand, driving Formula Fords. At their local track the top drivers’ best lap times were within a few hundredths of a second of each other, so they all assumed they were getting everything out of the car possible. One day F1 driver Jos Verstappen showed up to the track. At this point he was pretty much washed up in F1, a backmarker when he didn’t crash. But a local driver who wasn’t in the chase for the championship offered to let Verstappen drive his car for a race. He beat everyone else’s qualifying time by a huge margin and lapped most of the field over the course of the race… all in a car that hadn’t been competitive all year, on a track he’d never driven.

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