Tennis sentences to ponder

by on March 23, 2017 at 2:49 am in Education, History, Sports | Permalink

[Andre] Agassi pauses when asked if he and his wife [Steffi Graf] sometimes hit a few balls in Vegas – for old time’s sake? “No. It sounds a nice idea. But as soon as you hit the first couple of balls you remember you can do this. But you’re also reminded of what you can’t do. I just thank God I played the game long enough to enjoy lots of good moments. It gave a lot and it took a lot. I think me and tennis are about even now.”

Here is the full interview, interesting throughout.

He was superb, here is the transcript, audio, and video.  We considered satire as a weapon, Harvard, long-distance running, Washington vs. NYC, Daniel Ellsberg and Edward Snowden, Caribbean culture and intellectual history, and of course Malcolm’s mom, among other topics.  His answers are so fluid and narrative they are hard to excerpt, but here is one bit from him:

COWEN: Overrated or underrated, the idea of early childhood intervention to set societal ills right?

GLADWELL: Overrated because to my mind it’s just another form . . . it became politically impermissible to say that certain people in society would never make it because they were genetically inferior. So I feel like that group, it’s like, “All right, we can’t say that anymore. We’ll just move the goalpost up two years.” And we’ll say, “Well, if you don’t get . . .” Or three years — “If you don’t get the right kind of stimulation by the time you’re three, basically it’s curtains.”

Why is that argument, which we decided we didn’t like it when they set the goalpost at zero, and somehow it’s super-important and legitimate and chin-stroking-worthy when they moved the goalpost to three. Truth is, people, it’s not over at three any more than it was over at zero. There are certain things that it would be nice to get done by the age of three. But if they’re not, the idea that it’s curtains is preposterous. It’s the same kind of fatalism that I thought we had defeated in the . . .

If you want to say that the goalpost should be at 30, then I’m open to it.

I asked what changes he would make to higher education:

GLADWELL: OK. I would establish a set of baseline criteria for admissions, and then I would have a lottery after that. So if you’re in the top 2 percent of your high school class — 5 percent, whatever cutoff we want — following test scores at a certain point, whatever cutoff we want, some minimum number of other things you do — you just go into the pot and we’re pulling out names. I’d probably triple or quadruple the size in the next 10 years, open campuses — probably two other campuses in the United States, one overseas.

I had this idea, I’m not sure how you’d do it, where I think that it would be really, really useful to ban graduates of elite colleges from ever disclosing that they went to an elite college.

I thought the Steve Pearlstein material was perhaps Malcolm’s highlight, but you need to read it straight through.

Here is a very short bit from me:

Most of my questions will be quite short, but my first question will be really, really long. Since everyone knows you and your work so well, I asked myself, “Who is Malcolm Gladwell?” And I tried to come up with an answer. I’ll give you my answer, and then you can correct me or add to that, and this will take a little while.

Definitely recommended.

USA NBA fact of the day

by on February 18, 2017 at 2:15 am in Data Source, Sports | Permalink

Overall, I estimate that the average white player in the N.B.A. has a fan base that is 56.7 percent white and 22.7 percent black. The average black player has a fan base that is 46.7 percent white and 32 percent black, a significant difference…

If a white and a black player are similar on paper, it is the black player who will have more fans.

Among black Americans, black players are roughly twice as popular as comparable white players. But black players get a slight boost from fans of every racial group. Compared with white players who are similar to them in all ways I could think to measure, black players have more fans among white Americans, Hispanic Americans and Asian-Americans.

Honestly, I was blown away by the overall size of this advantage. Roughly speaking, I estimate that a white player would have to score 10 more points per game to have as big a fan base on Facebook as he would have if he were black.

That is from Seth Stephens-Davidowitz at the NYT, there is much more discussion at the link, though no mention of The Incandescent Rex.  In other words, if the styles of the black players are in some way more dynamic and thus more popular (Rex being an exception, Pete Maravich another), and if we could adjust for that variable, how much of the race effect would go away?

Here is a description of the proposed rule change.  Felix Salmon asked:

I know nothing about baseball, but wouldn’t this give even more of an advantage to the team batting first?

I would expect the opposite (NB: I am not suggesting a weakness in Felix’s analytical abilities, only that British people don’t usually “get” baseball).  The team batting second in the inning always has more information than the team batting first, because the home team (which bats second) knows what the visitors scored in their half of the inning.

The closer you are to “runs,” the more valuable is this differential in information.  To see this, take those cases where the first-batting team fails to score in the top of the tenth inning.  The home team can then play for “only one run.”  If no one is on base, the strategies for “only one run” and “a bunch of runs” aren’t that different.  You’d like to start with some extra base hits, home runs, etc., in either case.  But with a man already on second (or on third, to see the point more clearly), you can consider some alternate strategies, such as just poking the ball to the opposite field.  You don’t need to swing for a home run so much, or try to stretch a single into a double, and so on.  You can play more conservatively in the offense, because you know that a single run suffices to win the game.

For the team that bats first, playing for “only one run” isn’t the sure-fire clincher, and so this helps the team that bats second in the inning, the home team.

Or so it seems to me.

Addendum: Via J.C. Bradbury, Cowen’s Second Law!

In 2015, to make extra point plays after touchdowns more uncertain, the NFL moved the extra point distance from the 2-yard line to the 15-yard line. Since the rule change, the expected points from an extra point attempt has fallen from 0.99 (averaging between the 2002 and 2014 NFL seasons) to 0.94 (averaging the 2015 and 2016 NFL seasons) while the expected points from the two point conversion remains 0.95 (averaging between 2002 and 2016 NFL seasons). While the total number of two point conversion attempts per season has almost doubled, most coaches still rarely attempt 2 point conversions when it would be point maximizing (and win maximizing under risk neutral or risk seeking preferences). Using dynamic programming, this paper argues that this result is evidence of a conservative bias and that teams could improve expected wins by attempting more two point conversions.

Hartley is at the Wharton School, here is the link (pdf).

On February 27, I’ll be having a Conversation with Tyler with Malcolm Gladwell.  (Sorry the event is already sold out!  In due time I’ll get you information on the live stream.)  What should I ask him?

I thank you in advance for your intelligent and scintillating suggestions.

Yup, I’m here.  I made this list before setting off:

1. Popular music: Few from any country come close to Fela Kuti, the main question is how many you should buy, not which ones.  Most of them!  On the CD medium, that old series of “two albums on one CD” was the best way to consume Fela.  On streaming, you can probably just let it rip.  And rip.  And rip.  Other favorites are King Sunny Ade and I.K. Dairo, I don’t love Fema Kuti.  You also might try Nigerian psychedelic funk rock from the late 60s and early 70s, for instance found here.  Most of all, there are thousands of wonderful local performers in Nigeria, you can watch a few of them on the Netflix documentary on the Nigerian music scene, titled Konkombe, recommended and only an hour long.

There is now a good deal of hit Nigerian and Nigerian-American music, such as Wizkid.  It is enjoyable but does not compare to Fela in terms of staying power.

2. Basketball player: The Dream is one of my three or four favorite players of all time.  My favorite Hakeem was watching him pick apart David Robinson play after play after play…see the final clip on the immediately preceding link.

3. Novel: Chinua Achebe, Things Fall Apart.  Honorable mentions go to Wole Soyinka, Ben Okri, and my colleague Helon Habila.  There are also the Nigerian-American writers, such as Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.  Teju Cole is worth reading, including his non-fiction.

4. Movie: Well, I’ve seen parts of some of them, and you should at least sample some Nollywood if you haven’t already.  It’s kinetic.  The documentary “Nollywood Babylon” (Netflix) gives you some background.  As for “Movie, set in,” I draw a blank.  “Album, set in and recorded in” would be Band on the Run, Paul McCartney and Wings.

5. Actor: Chiwetal Ejiofor, he starred in “Twelve Years a Slave,” and is from a Nigerian family in Britain.

6. Presidential name: Goodluck Jonathan.

7. Artist: Prince Twins Seven Seven, or more formally Prince Taiwo Olaniyi Wyewale-Toyeje Oyekale Osuntoki.  He received his nickname because he was the only surviving child from seven distinct sets of twins.


8. Food dish: At least for now I have to say jollof rice, a precursor dish to jambalaya, further reports to come however!

The bottom line: Lots of talent here, plenty more on the way.

We find that hedge fund managers who own powerful sports cars take on more investment risk. Conversely, managers who own practical but unexciting cars take on less investment risk. The incremental risk taking by performance car buyers does not translate to higher returns. Consequently, they deliver lower Sharpe ratios than do car buyers who eschew performance. In addition, performance car owners are more likely to terminate their funds, engage in fraudulent behavior, load up on non-index stocks, exhibit lower R-squareds with respect to systematic factors, and succumb to overconfidence. We consider several alternative explanations and conclude that manager revealed preference in the automobile market captures the personality trait of sensation seeking, which in turn drives manager behavior in the investment arena.

That is from a new paper by Stephen Brown, Yan Lu, Sugata Ray, and Melvyn Teo, and for the pointer I thank the excellent Kevin Lewis.

I say probably not.  Leonid Bershidsky writes:

Although some of these groups have made headlines with their gun-toting antics, the militiamen I met in Florida were more afraid and disoriented than fearsome…It’s hard to imagine [those] people…taking up arms for Trump if he loses and refuses to concede defeat. One reason is that they are not die-hard Trump fans. Another is that they’re realistic about how much power they have.

I think it is far more likely there is some additional violence if Trump wins.  Does “emboldening” or “disillusionment” encourage more aggression?  I am more afraid of too much enthusiasm for how much “change” is possible, then leading to overreaching among some of the less salubrious followers, backed by a belief that “now everything is permitted.”

In the meantime, it’s 1968, and Eddie Brinkman is stepping up to the plate to bat

Make baseball fun again

by on November 6, 2016 at 3:58 am in Data Source, Sports | Permalink

Gregory Howard of MIT is on the job market this year, and I was intrigued by one of his papers in process (not yet available):

Make Baseball Fun Again (with Vivek Bhattacharya)

Abstract: Using Pitch F/X data covering over 6 million pitches, we document that pitchers are averse to throwing fastballs. Controlling for the state space of a baseball game, including balls, strikes, outs, inning, run differential, and pitcher/batter fixed effects, we find the pitching team is more likely to win the game when throwing a fastball. This is inconsistent with a mixed-strategy equilibrium where the pitcher’s utility is winning the game. We document that fastballs are riskier, leading to more outs, but also to more extra-base hits. We outline a possible incentive problem between the team and the pitcher, who has preferences over remaining in the game, similar to career concerns (Holmstrom 1998), leading the pitcher to be risk-averse. As suggestive evidence, we show that these effects are more prevalent later in the game, and that rookie pitchers, who have less leverage over pitch choice, do not exhibit this tendency.

If you are wondering, Greg’s job market paper (also at the above link) is on how local labor migration creates an “accelerator” for labor demand by boosting the demand for housing — a locally-produced good — in that area.

Turkey continues a major crackdown against the Kurds.

This week at least 239 people drowned trying to cross the Mediterranean.

Huawei will begin marketing its smart phone in the United States this January.

Journalists will try to tell you that Carlsen vs. Karjakin will be close.  Other journalists will try to tell you that someone other than Golden State or Cleveland will win the next NBA title.  Other journalists will try to tell you…

“U.S. military hackers have penetrated Russia’s electric grid, telecommunications networks and the Kremlin’s command systems, making them vulnerable to attack by secret American cyber weapons should the U.S. deem it necessary”…link here.

TaterGrams: New Alberta company lets you mail personalized potatoes.


Just keep Mexico, South Korea, and Estonia in mind, and I’m sure you’ll do the right thing.

The first self-driving cars to be operated by ordinary British drivers will be left deliberately unmarked so that other drivers will not be tempted to “take them on”, a senior car industry executive has revealed.

One of the biggest fears of an ambitious project to lease the first autonomous vehicles to everyday motorists is that other road users might slam on their brakes or drive erratically in order to force the driverless cars into submission, he said.

This is why the first 100 self-driving 4×4 vehicles to be leased to motorists as part of a pilot scheme on busy main roads into London will look no different than other Volvos of the same model, said Erik Coelingh, senior technical leader at Volvo Cars. The scheme will start in 2018.

Americans wouldn’t talk this way:

One driver interviewed for the survey said: “I’ll be overtaking all the time because they’ll be sticking to the rules.”

Another said: “They are going to stop. So you’re going to mug them right off. They’re going to stop and you’re just going to nip around.”

Here is more, via Michelle Dawson.

Addendum: Via Anecdotal, here is an Australian perspective:

Well, I am here to tell you: that’s OK. We’ve all had it drummed into us from infancy that humans bullying cars = bad.

But we can’t let our bourgeois notions of propriety in auto-human interactions stop us from letting out our inner Johnny from Karate Kid.

We must, rather, get on with the vital and necessary work of bullying, haranguing and insulting these contraptions every chance we get. Because I cannot stress this enough: these cars must not be allowed to develop self-esteem.

From another corner of the world, I can tell you that Kiwis do not drive as politely as they talk.

There is no grape stagnation

by on October 27, 2016 at 12:23 am in Games, Sports | Permalink

Setting the world record for using your mouth to catch a grape dropped from the greatest height: It was a dream years in the making, and all it took was a hot air balloon, walnut-sized fruits shipped specially from Georgia and a crew of Ph.D.-level engineers who gathered at a tiny Vermont airport before the sun rose on Monday morning.

The man with the plan was Brent Fraser, 35, who said he “just had a natural knack” for catching things in his mouth ever since his high school days in Barre, Vt., where buddies would chuck food toward him in the school parking lot.

The piece has some good sentences, such as:

Indeed, once things did get going, most of the few dozen attempts ended with a goggle-clad Fraser getting smacked in the face and chest by the large grapes — selected because they were easiest to see — that were traveling about 56 mph.


“How much did they hurt?” one of the engineers, Tristan Ramey, asked at one point.

“So bad,” Fraser told her. “I felt like I was being punched in the face.”

He ended up catching one from 101 feet.  And finally:

Fraser, most of his face stained in purple grape juice, had to get to work to interview a prospective employee by 9 a.m.

Here is the full article, with video, via the excellent Mark Thorson.

…the NFL is seeing its ratings tumble in the same way that the Olympics, awards shows and other live events have, falling more than 10 percent for the first five weeks of the season compared with the first five weeks of last season. A continued slide, executives say, could pose an even bigger danger: If football can’t survive the new age of TV, what can?

Football’s traditional TV audience “is never going to be what it was again,” said Brian Hughes, a senior vice president at Magna Global, which tracks audience and advertising trends.

The explosion of modern entertainment options, offered on more devices and at any time, has splintered American audiences and sped TV’s decline, Hughes said. “Sports seemed to be immune from it — it was live, the last bastion of broadcast television. But [the world] has caught up to it now.”

That is from Drew Harwell, and much of the decline seems to be coming from cord-cutting, audience fragmentation, and also the presence of a somewhat controversial election season, which has drawn some viewers (not me) to cable news.

The coach who never punts

by on October 14, 2016 at 2:51 am in Education, Sports | Permalink

In Little Rock, Arkansas, the Pulaski Academy Bruins play the game of football differently than you’ve ever seen before.

They don’t punt.

They onside kick every time.

And they always go for two.

Kevin Kelley, the architect of the system, studied years and years worth of data and implemented the system with absolute success. He’s won five state titles and has one of the best offenses in the entire country.

There is, sadly, a noisy video at the link, though it is easy to turn off.  Whether you agree with this strategy or not, one of my core views is that we do not have enough experimentation of this kind.  And I’m not just talking about football.

For the pointer I thank Peter Bach-y-Rita.