Monthly Archives: January 2016

Book Review- Newton’s Football

Newton’s Football: The Science Behind America’s Game
by Allen St. John and Ainissa G. Ramirez, Ph.D., 2013

newton's football

The writing style is reminiscent of Freakonomics, and the book is very well-written. I did find a lot of the science-references to be silly and forced, but they didn’t detract much from the exposition. The book has great insights into the evolution of the sport, with injury-prevention playing a heavy role.

I particularly liked all the references to Bengals players. I didn’t take a full survey, but I think Bengals’ coaches and players were discussed more than members of any other team. Greg Cook, Sam Wyche, Bill Walsh, Ken Anderson, and Boomer Esiason all feature prominently in various stories. The authors did a good job of incorporating interviews from both football and science experts into the book.

Amazon Link: Newton’s Football: The Science Behind America’s Game

Plot Watt

plotwatt-logo-header-190x110

Interesting talk at the Bloomington Data Collective Meetup last night by Zach Dwiel of Plot Watt. Plot Watt uses energy sensors in households and restaurants to find opportunities to save energy. In restaurants, the use cases might be
-discovering that the restaurant’s outdoor lights stay on all night despite the restaurant closing at 10pm
-noticing when the fryer is left on after closing and alerting management
-realizing that the appliances in use are much less energy efficient than similar appliances at other locations
-determining poor installs that are costing energy
-finding poorly specified defaults on the HVAC or refrigeration units.

Zach is part of the software team that is in charge of dis-entangling the differnet signals in the electric load to determine when specific appliances/lights/HVAC are clicking on/off. This is a very difficult problem, and the academic literature has been limited by solid “truth” examples from which to learn/train. Zach discussed how Plot Watt is using machine learning to try to get at the problem. They may have the most data on this problem of anyone.

Related: It looks like a startup may be trying to automate this approach and bring it to more households.

Thanks to Crisson for the invite to the meetup.

Liking Losses

Funny post at KenPom about liking the tweets announcing losses by previously unbeaten teams. Duke wins for most hated team. When they lose for the first time, their loss gets the most retweets and likes. (Might have something to do with losing to Kentucky on heavily-watched game)

NFL Picks- Super Bowl 2016

The NFL betting season is wrapping up, with a profitable overall season guaranteed for me. Panthers are killing everyone and favored by 4.5 in the Super Bowl. My model has them favored by 7.6 on a neutral field. Even if they were playing in Denver, they’d be favored by 4.6 in my model.

Overall Against the Spread: 126-110
Week 2: 9-7
Week 3: 5-11
Week 4: 10-5
Week 5: 5-6 (2 pushes, 1 not bet due to correct line)
Week 6: 8-6
Week 7: 6-7 (1 not bet due to correct line)
Week 8: 6-6 (2 pushes)
Week 9: 6-7
Week 10: 10-4
Week 11: 6-7 (1 push)
Week 12: 11-5
Week 13: 4-11 (1 not bet due to correct line)
Week 14: 7-7 (2 not bet due to correct line)
Week 15: 8-6 (2 pushes)
Week 16: 9-6 (1 push)
Week 17: 10-6
Wildcard: 2-1 (1 not bet due to correct line)
Divisional: 2-2
Conference: 2-0

Super Bowl Predictions (line in parentheses):
Carolina Panthers at Denver Broncos (+4.5): Predicting 26.8-19.2. Bet on the Carolina Panthers.

Book Review- Energy Revolution

Energy Revolution: The Physics and the Promise of Efficient Technologies
by Mara Prentiss, 2015

energy revolution

Written by a professor of physics at Harvard, this book goes headfirst into the physics of generating electricity. The present state of fossil fuel burning is compared to a future powered by renewables. Using back of the envelope math, the author shows that it would be possible to provide 100% of the U.S.’s average energy use from either wind or solar power. This includes the energy used in transportation. The difficulties arise in the intermittency of these resources. With vast advances in energy storage or electricity transmission (to create a larger network to pool active renewables), the future could be powered entirely by affordable renewable power. This blog post provides a version of that argument.

This book is interesting, but a harder read than most of the energy books I’ve read lately. It would have benefited from some more editing to fix the occasional typo and to strengthen and consolidate important sections. One thing I really like, however, is the fact that the arguments of the book are made actionable in Appendix C: “Recommended Steps toward a Renewable Future”.

Amazon Link: Energy Revolution: The Physics and the Promise of Efficient Technology

Optimal Basketball Strategy

Interesting post at Nylon Calculus about the things that can be optimized in a basketball strategy.

1. Allocative efficiency: Teams should allocate shots such that the marginal shot (the last “acceptable” shot) taken by each player on the court has an equal expected value for points.

2. Dynamic efficiency: Teams should pass up a shot that will lead to a lower expected value than what they could get with the remaining seconds on the shot clock.

3. Risk/reward tradeoff: Teams should choose shot strategies that maximize the probability of winning, not the number of points scored.

I agree that teams seem to be particularly bad at #3. It’s frustrating to see a team give up a big lead by hoisting up 3’s in an attempt to run the other team out of the building.

NBA players’ intuitive feel for the risk/reward tradeoff seems to have a number of deficiencies. Generally, NBA teams do respond correctly to “underdog” situations: they increase the proportion of 3’s taken when they have a big deficit and little time remaining. But they respond incorrectly to situations where they are favored. Where they should play conservatively (making safe, low-variance plays), they actually play less conservatively: taking more 3’s, for example.

In situations where the game is very close, NBA teams seem to become highly risk averse. For example, in such situations teams tend to take a suboptimally small number of 3-pointers.

basketball strategies

NFL Picks- Conference Round of 2015 Playoffs

Overall Against the Spread: 124-110
Week 2: 9-7
Week 3: 5-11
Week 4: 10-5
Week 5: 5-6 (2 pushes, 1 not bet due to correct line)
Week 6: 8-6
Week 7: 6-7 (1 not bet due to correct line)
Week 8: 6-6 (2 pushes)
Week 9: 6-7
Week 10: 10-4
Week 11: 6-7 (1 push)
Week 12: 11-5
Week 13: 4-11 (1 not bet due to correct line)
Week 14: 7-7 (2 not bet due to correct line)
Week 15: 8-6 (2 pushes)
Week 16: 9-6 (1 push)
Week 17: 10-6
Wildcard: 2-1 (1 not bet due to correct line)
Divisional: 2-2

This Week’s Predictions (line in parentheses):
New England Patriots at Denver Broncos (+3.5): Predicting 21.7-22.7. Bet on the Denver Broncos.
Arizona Cardinals at Carolina Panthers (-3.0): Predicting 23.9-27.1. Bet on the Carolina Panthers.

Book Review- Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength

Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength
by Roy F. Baumeister and John Tierney, 2011

willpower

Highly recommended. Gives tips on why you are so cranky at the end of the day. Hint: willpower depletion and decision fatigue. You have a finite supply of willpower, and it won’t be replenished without food or sleep. The book has useful long-term strategies on how to conserve willpower by creating routines, setting plans with to-do lists, and creating if-then rules for eating, drinking, and behaving. Relatively quick read, with lots of references to behavioral research.

Amazon Link: Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength

NFL Picks- Divisional Week of 2015

Overall Against the Spread: 122-108
Week 2: 9-7
Week 3: 5-11
Week 4: 10-5
Week 5: 5-6 (2 pushes, 1 not bet due to correct line)
Week 6: 8-6
Week 7: 6-7 (1 not bet due to correct line)
Week 8: 6-6 (2 pushes)
Week 9: 6-7
Week 10: 10-4
Week 11: 6-7 (1 push)
Week 12: 11-5
Week 13: 4-11 (1 not bet due to correct line)
Week 14: 7-7 (2 not bet due to correct line)
Week 15: 8-6 (2 pushes)
Week 16: 9-6 (1 push)
Week 17: 10-6
Wildcard: 2-1 (1 not bet due to correct line)

This Week’s Predictions (line in parentheses):
Kansas City Chiefs at New England Patriots (-5.0): Predicting 21.7-23.6. Bet on the Kansas City Chiefs.
Green Bay Packers at Arizona Cardinals (-7.0): Predicting 20.6-26.9. Bet on the Green Bay Packers.
Seattle Seahawks at Carolina Panthers (-2.5): Predicting 21.7-24.9. Bet on the Carolina Panthers.
Pittsburgh Steelers at Denver Broncos (-6.5): Predicting 21.2-22.3. Bet on the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Book Review- Sucker’s Portfolio

Sucker’s Portfolio
by Kurt Vonnegut, 2013

sucker's portfolio

With typical dark humor, this collection of short stories gives a glimpse into Vonnegut’s view of the world in his later years. The posthumous publication actually includes a final story that was unfinished at time of death. Unfortunately, this was one of the most grandiose and interesting stories, so I’m sad that it didn’t get finished properly. The book draws on Vonnegut’s Indiana upbringing for a couple of stories, which keeps the references interesting. There is also a wide-ranging rant from the author on the ridiculous behavior of many people. Overall, interesting enough for our car trip (we listened to it on tape).

Amazon Link: Sucker’s Portfolio: A Collection of Previously Unpublished Writing