Summer Plans

The lack of posting lately is directly related to the influx in homework and extracurricular travel that has accompanied this semester. But classes are over in a couple weeks, and I’m planning on creating a regular schedule for posting for the summer. Give me a couple weeks to create a backlog of posts so that the system works.

This summer, I’ve decided not to take on any commitments. No school. No internships. No job. May-August will be the longest streak of unstructured time that I have had in my adult life.

Junior/senior years of high school, I had a summer job. McDonald’s and Lonestar Steakhouse. From 2006-2010, I had 5 summer internships. Hope College, Case Western, UCLA, and 2 years at the Aerospace Corporation. 2011-2013 I was working at Booz Allen. So this year will be the first time I’ve had time to myself.

The goal is to be outrageously productive in research, to compensate for the fact that I’ve had to put research on the back-burner this semester due to homework and travel. Will update as I go. We’ll be in Bloomington for most of the summer, save for a few short trips.

School Schedule

As a reference, here are the courses I have taken at IU thus far. Recall that I am doing a PhD in Decision Science and Operations Management.

Fall 2013:
Linear Optimization (1/2 semester, Kurt Bretthauer)
Integer and Nonlinear Optimization (1/2 semester, Kurt Bretthauer)
Dynamic Programming (1/2 semester, Goker Aydin)
Exploratory Data Analysis (full semester, Karen Kafadar)
Foundations of Information Systems Research (1/2 semester, Alan Dennis)
Introduction to Complex Systems (full semester, Filippo Radicchi)

Spring 2014:
Inventory Theory (1/2 semester, Gil Souza)
Supply Chain and Distribution (1/2 semester, Gil Souza)
Behavioral Operations Management (1/2 semester, Shanshan Hu)
Humanitarian Logistics (1/2 semester, Alfonso Pedraza Martinez
Game Theory (1/2 semester, Eric Rasmusen)
Asset Pricing Theory (full semester, Craig Holden)

Directional Statistics

At Booz Allen in 2012, I needed to find the average time of day that something happened as part of my code. Taking the normal (linear) average of times of day doesn’t work because there is always a discontinuity somewhere, usually midnight. Since times of day are periodic, 11:59 pm and 1:01 am should average to midnight, not noon. But they’ll average to noon (1200) if you average something like 2359 (military time) and 0001.

I thought we had stumbled on to an area of mathematics that needed further study: finding the average and variance of periodic variables. Because all of my internet searches were things like “how to average periodic variables” and “average time of day” and the like, I could not find anything on the internet about how to solve this problem. So I started to derive an answer and ended up with something very similar to what I now learn is called Directional Statistics. Wiki article on directional statistics. I never thought to search for anything like “Directional Statistics” or “Circular Statistics” or anything similar, so I didn’t find Directional Statistics until Dave Anderson showed them to me this week.

The basic idea (that AJ Mobley, Dave, and I derived at Booz Allen) is that you treat times of day as points on the unit circle, and then average the points in two-dimensions. Invert the “average point” to get the average time of day. Additionally, the farther the point is from the origin, the lower the variance of the points.

Other Roads Not Taken

Interesting post on Grantland about how Alex Rodriguez’s career could be remembered so differently if certain small things had turned out differently. He was a rookie during the ’94 strike season, and that year ended up counting toward his major league experience, so he hit the free agency market a year early. Later with the Rangers, he was almost traded to the Red Sox for Manny Ramirez and Jon Lester, but MLBPA nixed the deal because Rodriguez was taking a pay cut on his historically high contract with the Yankees. Just imagine how differently Rodriguez would be perceived if he had been a Red Sock the last ten years (2+ championships) instead of a Yankee (1 championship and tons of controversy).

5 Other “what-ifs” that I thought of in sports:
1. What if grass had grown in Houston’s spiffy new Astro Dome in 1965? Would so many teams have suffered the realities of Astroturf and other artificial turfs?
2. What if Kentucky had better shut down Dwayne Wade in the 2003 Elite Eight? Wade’s triple-double and the publicity it brought him propelled him to enter the draft after his junior year and he was taken 5th overall by the Heat. If Wade goes 15/5/5 instead of 29/11/11 and UK wins, does Wade enter the draft? Does The Decision happen in 2010 so Lebron and Wade can be buddy-buddy?
3. What if Hayward’s shot goes in? Does Butler get to a 2nd straight final the next year? Does Brad Stevens leave for Boston?
4. What if Bob Knight doesn’t choke Neil Reed in practice? Does he do something else stupid that gets him fired? Is he still coaching IU today (he’s 73)? Would we be spared the misery of listening him try to announce games?
5. What if the Colts and Rams’ owners never swapped teams? Do the Colts end up moving to Indy? If they never leave Baltimore, what does Art Modell do to the Browns? The Rams were in Los Angeles at the time of the swap; does Los Angeles have a football team today?

My definition of “Sports”

The Olympics kicked off yesterday. Whoever approves competitions for inclusion in the Olympics does not share my view of what constitutes a sport. Here is their list of Olympic Sports.

In my opinion, sports are athletic events that have an offense and a defense.

My definition limits “sports” to athletic events where you “score” a point/goal/run/etc on your opponent and the winner of the contest is defined in some way by who scores the most. Additionally, there must be some aspect of defense whereby each team is trying to keep the other team from scoring.

Let’s examine some of the events on the Olympic list to see if they are really sports.
Archery/Shooting/Bobsled/Skating/Skiing/Diving/Weightlifting: Not sports. You don’t even compete at the same time as your opponents, so there’s no defense.
Trampoline: Please. Kid’s backyard event. Not a sport.
Tennis/Badminton: Sports. You’re constantly trying to score points while keeping your opponent from scoring.
Table Tennis: The way they play, I guess these are athletic events. Maybe. Sport.
Swimming/Rowing: You compete at the same time as your opponents, but you have to stay in your lane and cannot affect their performance. Not sports. This goes for any “stay in your lane” track and field events too.
Boxing/Judo/Taekwondo: Offense-Hit opponent. Defense-Avoid opponent’s attack. Sports.
Volleyball/Soccer/Basketball/Hockey: Classic team sports.
Winter biathlon: Ski. Shoot. Ski. Shoot. Unless you can shoot your opponent to slow them down, not a sport.
Golf: There is some strategy involved in how you play which depends on how well your opponent(s) are doing, but you cannot really stop your opponent from doing well in any way. Not a sport.

Tougher calls:
Racing events (cycling/sailing/long-distance running/skating/skiing) where you don’t have to stay in your lane: You can sometimes interact with your opponent by blocking their path. But that’s not really the point of the event. The point is to get the finish line the fastest. Maybe some strategy involved in the pace that you set, but no real offense or defense. Not sports.
Curling: There is definitely “scoring” based on where the stones end up. And you can prevent the opponent from scoring by knocking out their stones. And it’s fairly athletic, so I’m going to say it’s a sport.

By my count, the only two real sports in the Winter Olympics are hockey and curling. The rest can be “athletic events”, but they’re not sports.

Additionally, watching athletic events with cryptic subjective scoring is annoying. Figure skating, “style” skiing events, gymnastics, and diving, I’m looking at you. Figure out a real way to decide the winner.

It’s a travesty that baseball/softball are not in the Olympics when trampoline is. The ancient Greeks would be ashamed.

Curling is pretty awesome.

My Super Bowl Prop Bets

I took some time yesterday morning to scour the internet for prop bets related to the Super Bowl. Here are the bets I designed and the payouts I set:
 

Super Bowl Prop Bets

If you watched the Super Bowl, you know that it was one of the worst games ever. The Broncos did everything they could to lose and the Seahawks were fairly flawless. If you didn’t watch the Super Bowl, what’s wrong with you?

We had a Super Bowl party at our condo, and charged $2 to enter our betting game. I was obviously not expecting the outcome of the game that happened, because I set “Seahawks win by 29.5 or more” as 100-1 odds. That came true and made calculating the winner pretty easy. Ryan and Nicole Van Klompenburg take home the winnings with their long-shot bet.

Walking Roller Coaster

I grew up at Kings Island, and I love roller coasters. One of the best rides I ever had was when I was on Drop Zone. The ride went to the top of its climb, and got stuck. There were announcements that we’d be up there awhile while they fixed something. While that freaked a lot of people out, I thought it was awesome because the view was amazing and the weather was great. I was up there long enough to find the neighborhood where my parent’s home was. After 10ish minutes, we could tell that whatever was broken was being fixed. There was a heightened anticipation of “when are we going to drop?” We made it down alive though.

The thing about normal coaster rides is that they don’t stop. So if you want to enjoy the view, you better do it quick. This new “coaster” in Germany doesn’t quite have that problem though. It’s a walking coaster with a loop. I… don’t think you can actually walk the loop, but I’m not positive. I can’t figure out how it would work and no one is on it in any of the pictures. But still, a cool idea with some pretty views that you can watch for as long as desired.

Reds Caravan Reveals Team Employs 3 Programmers

The Reds Caravan rolled through Bloomington yesterday. This edition of the traveling side-show featured Marty Brennaman, Eric Davis, Assistant GM Bob Miller, new guy Brayan Pena, minor leaguer Tucker Barnhart, and Big Red Machine glue-guy Doug Flynn. After Marty introduced everyone, he opened up the floor to questions. I asked Bob Miller about the status of the Reds’ Analytics efforts. He tried to convey the vast amount of data that the team collects, including over 90 data points for every pitch thrown. The Director of Baseball Research/Analysis is Sam Grossman, who heads a team of three programmers. The team also employs over 20 scouts, which are especially necessary for understanding high school and foreign talent where the data on the player’s performance is sparser/non-existant.

While I appreciate the honest and helpful answer from Mr. Miller, I wonder whether having three people doing analytics for a team that is going to spend $100M+ each year on player payroll is enough. Do other teams have more analytics professionals? The Reds, under the Dusty Baker regime, tended to ignore a lot of largely accepted analytics wisdom:
-Baker consistently batted his shortstop in the top 2 spots in the order, despite the Reds not having an above-average bat playing shortstop
-The Reds left Aroldis Chapman, one of the most dominant pitchers in baseball, to languish in the closer roll for 2 years, where he pitched a total of 135 innings over 2 years, having a minimal effect on the game. Mike Leake, the Reds’ 5th starter, registered 371 innings in those 2 years.
-Baker wanted his hitters to be aggressive at the plate, which lowered their walk rate, sometimes to comical levels. Getting on base is important, and walks are a way to get on base.

I’d like to see the Reds become more cutting-edge in accepting data-driven wisdom that will improve their team’s performance. As a skilled analytics developer, its frustrating for me to see my team frequently mocked by those individuals who work full-time in baseball analytics. Maybe they’ll hire me as a consultant. I can fix them.

Maria wrote a wrap-up of the Bloomington Caravan stop for Redleg Nation. You should check it out here!