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Monday, June 10, 2013

Experts' Predictions As Good As Random Chance

Nate Silver is an acclaimed and respected author, statistician, political blogger who wrote a book titled "The Signal and The Noise; Why So Many Predictions Fail - But Some Don't." I'm currently still working my way through it and have thus far rather enjoyed Silver's insights on the financial crisis and why it was missed by even the wisest economic advisers.

While discussing the fall of the Soviet Union in the late 1980s, Silver cites professor Philip Tetlock's statistical findings on experts' predictions of political and economic issues. Silver says that Tetlock found out "The experts in his survey - regardless of their occupation, experience, or subfield - had done barely any better than random chance..." and "They were grossly overconfident and terrible at calculating probabilities: about 15 percent of events that they claimed had no chance of occurring in fact happened, while about 25 percent of those that they said were absolutely sure things in fact failed to occur."

While I respect and appreciate Silver's thoughts, I worry these sentiments are slightly misconstrued. I understand that "had barely done better than random chance" means the experts correctly predicted events just over 50% of the time. Alas, the second quote is what bothers me. Naturally, coming from an "expert," it is disappointing to find that their "no chance" and "absolutely sure things" were incorrectly guessed even some of the time; however, I would not feel comfortable trusting a coin flip as much as a learned professional on generally straightforward choices. If the statistics showed that half of the time, the experts failed to predict the events they were sure would or would not happen, then I would be ok with Silver's thoughts. But, I feel that an educated guess is much more reliable than a coin flip over a large sample size.

Even though the experts picks on "sure things" were wrong up to 1/4 of the time, that still means their predictions were 75-25. Is that not a better chance than a coin flip? I do not like the idea of trusting random chance over an expert especially when an educated opinion on a "seemingly" obvious topic can provide a better than random chance prediction.

- Isaac M. Comelli (6/10/13)

Friday, June 7, 2013

Watching Sports Makes Us Fatter

For those of us who never played in college and didn't have what it takes to make it to the pros, playing pickup games at the park and watching the real deal on televison is as close as we will ever get to being an elite athlete. It is no question that American culture over-watches television in general. In 2010, a man named Jeff Miller was lauded for setting the world record for consecutive hours spent watching sports on TV, 72 hours.

Professional sports leagues will never tell you to get off the couch and stop watching their broadcasts, but they do have programs that push for healthier children, like NFL Play 60. Despite mixed messages of health and team loyalty, people watch hours of sports every week. Are we as a society hurting ourselves by watching the sports we love instead of playing them?

There is ample research that shows less television watching is healthier for your mind and body. This article from The Telegraph suggests "every hour of TV watching shortens life by 22 minutes." Mathematically, if a person watches 3 hours of sports a week for 50 years, she'll have shortened her life by approximately 119 days, almost 1/3 of a year. Plus, she will have spent 7800 hours watching sports in those 50 years.

This graphic from shows, during football season, 31% of adult males in the U.S. watched 6-10 hours of just football each week. If you throw in women as well, that number only drops to 27%! Our society loves watching sports but it's clearly better to play sports than to sit on the couch and watch them.

As sports fans who want to watch our favorite teams, how do we drop the remote, get off the couch, and get to work on getting ourselves in shape?

My answer is, maybe we don't have to miss the big games in order to better use our time for exercising. I believe it is possible to both support your favorite team on game day by watching the game and get a good workout. Below is an image I created featuring a baseball-themed workout.

This is just one baseball-related example, but you could search for or create your own workout to help you better utilize your television watching time regardless of the sport. So go to your living room, turn on the game, get off the couch, and get your sweat on while cheering for your favorite team.

- Isaac M. Comelli (6/6/13)

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Ryu Throws Complete Game 2-Hit Shutout

Ryu Throws Complete Game 2-Hit Shutout
May 29, 2013

Hyun-Jin Ryu closed out the Dodgers’ end of the Freeway Series with a complete game, 2-hit shutout as the Dodgers defeated the 3-0 Los Angeles Angels Tuesday night.

Ryu’s first ever game against the local rival Angels was a dominant performance, allowing just two hits in nine innings and no walks while striking out seven batters. Ryu earned his sixth win of the season and dropped his ERA to 2.89. With a 6-2 record through eleven starts, the Korean-born pitcher appears to be worth the $62 million investment for the Dodgers.

Ryu also got the offense started for the Dodgers with a line drive double to the right center gap in the bottom of the 3rd, but was stranded there.

Luis Cruz provided a boost for the Dodgers with a 2-run shot to left field in the bottom of the 5th. Despite struggling this year, the Dodgers designated teammate Dee Gordon to their Triple-A affiliate Albuquerque Isotopes instead of Cruz. The home run was Cruz’s first of the year as his lone hit on the night kept his batting average from dropping below .100 again.

Matt Kemp doubled in the 6th inning and scored on an A.J. Ellis single to finish off the scoring for the night. Former Dodgers pitcher Joe Blanton tossed a respectable seven innings, allowing three earned off of seven hits. Blanton’s first return to Chavez Ravine since his offseason departure would be his eighth loss of the season.

Howie Kendrick singled off Ryu in the top of the 2nd, but the Angels would not see another base runner until catcher Chris Iannetta doubled in the top of the 8th.  A ground out would end that offensive threat as Ryu closed out his 2-hitter.

The Freeway Series now moves to Anaheim for two games. Wednesday night’s matchup will likely see Jered Weaver’s return from an elbow fracture as he faces off against the Dodgers’ Chris Capuano at 7:05 p.m.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

"Quickly" Explaining Cricket to Americans

As a sports enthusiast, I appreciate learning new and foreign games from time to time. Cricket has always intrigued me, but its lack of presence on American television makes it difficult to learn and to get excited about. I finally resolved to batten down the hatches and learn the rules. While I'm at it, I might as well write down what I learned so other Americans can have a quick and dirty explanation of the rules.

There is a lot of terminology which may be foreign even to baseball fans. As such, I will try to follow any unclear terms with definitions in parentheses. I will also try to make comparisons to baseball whenever appropriate and helpful for clarity.

Let's first talk about the players. Each team consists of 11 players and 1 substitute. On the offensive side, each player will be a batsman during the match. On the defensive side, the players are separated into three main categories: bowlers (like pitchers), fielders, and a keeper (like a catcher). At any time, there is only one player bowling and one player keeping. The other nine players roam the field, trying to catch any balls hit toward them.

When on offense, a team sends two of its batsman to the area where the bowling (pitching) is done, called the pitch. One batsman stands on the opposite end of the bowler and the other batsman stands on the same end as the bowler. The batsman who is opposite of the bowler (also called the striker) is tasked with "protecting the wickets" which are three wooden stakes that are hammered into the ground behind him. If the bowler is able to break the wickets by hitting a stake with the ball, the striker is dismissed (out) and is then replaced by a new batsman. Note: There is another set of wickets directly behind the bowler.

In order to score runs, the striker and his opposite batsman must successfully cross the pitch (measuring about 60 feet) and cross the crease (essentially a batter's box) with either his body or his bat (they both carry their bats with them while running). Each time they manage to swap sides, they earn their team 2 points. After the ball has been bowled, the batsmen must together decide whether they will risk leaving their creases to attempt to score runs. If the ball looks as if it will not be caught in the air or picked up off the ground and quickly returned, the batsmen will take off running. They will continue to run back and forth, scoring two runs each time, until they feel as if they cannot safely cross again. Should the fielders or keeper return the ball and knock over a wicket while a batsman is not safely in the crease, that batsman is dismissed. Until dismissed, he and his partner continue batting.

As I said before, the batsmen can continue to run as long as they believe they will safely cross the pitch. Scoring one to three runs per batsman is common when crossing the pitch, but more than that is unlikely. Similar to baseball, there is a boundary around the pitch (which is generally shaped like an oval). If the batsman hits the ball and it bounces across the boundary (like a ground rule double), the batsman earns 4 runs and needs not cross the pitch. If the ball manages to clear the boundary while flying through the air (like a home run), the batsman is awarded 6 runs.

The format of a Cricket match can vary greatly, but the match is most commonly divided into innings. An innings (Cricket adds an "s" to inning for both the singular and plural form) continues for the offensive team until 10 out of the 11 batsmen have been dismissed. Not all 11 are required to be dismissed to end an innings because each striker needs a non-striker batsman to run opposite himself. When a team's innings is over, the fielding team and batting team swap sides.

Also important to note is the idea of "overs." Each bowler may only bowl one over, which consists of six consecutive balls thrown. After a bowler finishes his over, another bowler must replace him for no bowler may throw consecutive overs.

Finally, and I'm sure I left out some important details, I will cover the four most prominent ways of being dismissed as a batsman:
  1. "Bowled" - The bowler successfully gets the ball past the striker and "breaks" the wicket, which means it has either literally broken or one of the small pieces of wood sitting on top and essentially connecting the wickets together has been dislodged.
  2. "Caught" - The batsman's batted ball has been caught out of the air by one of the members of the other team.
  3. "Leg Before Wicket" - In the simplest sense, if the ball hits the striker when it would have hit the wickets, the striker is dismissed. Think of this rule as sort of an anti-goaltending rule. It prevents the batsman from purposefully getting hit to avoid being "bowled."
  4. "Run Out" - If a member of the defensive side breaks a wicket with the ball while the batsman nearest that wicket has not crossed the crease to safety, that batsman is dismissed.
A batter that has been "bowled"

The other six ways are less common and include rules about obstructing a fielder or mishitting the ball.
Note: There are also other ways of scoring runs that I have not mentioned for the sake of brevity.

So that's the basic gist of Cricket. If you have any questions or clarifications, feel free to leave a comment and I will do my best to provide an answer or look it up!

Sources: Wikipedia,

- Isaac M. Comelli (5/22/13)

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Sitzpinklers and Backpfeifengesichts (no, that's not English)

     It's about 16 foreign words that we don't have words for in English. They're pretty funny (for example, Pisan Zapra – The time needed to eat a banana.), so I decided to write a story, incorporating each of these words (in order, nonetheless). Here is that story with each word and its definition provided below as a sort of legend:

     Once upon a time, there lived a man named Marteen. Having acquired aquaphobia at a young age, Marteen was a sitzpinkler.

     Marteen sat at his work cubicle in a state of misery. He had already sent 37 e-mails that morning and it was only 8:45 AM. The monotony of everyday life had gotten to Marteen. His tocka overwhelmed him and he worried he wouldn't make it through the day. The only hope of relief he had was knowing that at the end of the day, he would visit his favorite tanning salon. Being a slampadato, Marteen’s 8 visits a week made him more than a regular. Susie, the friendly receptionist greeted him with a wide grin every visit despite suspecting something mentally wrong with the man.

     At 5 o’clock, Marteen packed his hands-free waist satchel (he didn't like to call it a fanny pack) and left for Tan-tacular. Along the way, a homeless man called to him from the sidewalk and said, “Hey! Sirrrr. You got some whiskey?” The hobo rubbed his upper lip to relieve his sgriob while Marteen walked away as quickly as he could. He continued on to the tanning salon, but to his great sadness, found it to be closed. Disappointed, Marteen walked home.

     Late that night, as Marteen lay awake in bed, his mind raced with all the disappointments in his life. There was the time he thought he saw the gumusservi, but it was really just the police helicopter’s spotlight, coming to arrest his grandmother for arson. There was the time he was a contestant on a game show in which he had a pisan zapra to grab as much money from a cash whirlwind but got too scared and huddled in a ball. There was also the time he bought a baby iguana from the pet store but it was so gigil, he literally pinched it to death. Life had been rough on Marteen and it wasn't getting any easier.

     The next day, while procrastinating on some data entry in his cubicle, Marteen’s co-worker Arthur walked by and noticed his eyes looking a bit glazed over. “Marteen, are you high?” asked Arthur. Marteen stammered, “What? Oh. No. I was just…” “You were all boketto on that window over there,” interrupted Arthur. “Yeah. Sorry. Just been kinda out of it recently.” “That’s ok, man. I noticed you've been a little off since Kerman died,” said Arthur solemnly. “Oh… yeah. I suppose,” Marteen agreed for hope that the conversation would end. “Alright buddy. I’ll see you at the funeral. Chin up! I don’t mean to be a pesameneiro, but there should be some great Shitta to grub on.” “Yeah. Hopefully I won’t kummerspeck. I gotta watch my figure,” Marteen jested. Arthur laughed and walked away from his pensive co-worker. Marteen spent the rest of the afternoon continuing to think about nothing.

     Marteen arrived at the church and entered the sanctuary slowly. He hadn't been in a church since his grandmother had passed away (while she was in prison on her arson charge) and wasn't excited about being there. As he sat down, he noticed the woman sitting right in front of him. She had a stylish hairdo and seemed to be wearing a nice dress, at least by what he could see of it that wasn't covered by the church pew. He hadn't been on a date since Nickelback was cool. He concocted a plan and “accidentally” dropped his pen on her pew so that she would talk to him. She picked up the pen, turned around and said, “Is this yours?” “Yeah. Thanks,” Marteen said shortly. She was bakku-shan and he was a stickler for only the most beautiful girls (only one of many reasons for his Nickelback-length dating drought).

     The funeral service began with a 15-minute prayer by the priest, whom Marteen discovered was a backpfeifengesicht. The latter hoped that the clergyman would stop his prayer during several lulls, but the man trudged on through the sighs of his audience. Marteen decided that the priest had definitely been a manque; he probably should have been a televangelist. After the prayer and seven testimonials of the greatness that was the life of Kerman, something happened that shocked the entire congregation. Kerman’s casket door burst open with a loud vybafnout. An old lady in the front row fainted.

     Kerman ran out of the church doors and out into the street. Thinking this event odd, Marteen decided to follow the potential zombie to see what happened. He could Kerman in an alleyway, hiding. He had his hand on a long, metallic object that hanged from his belt. Marteen saw a woman walking towards the alley’s corner and feared that she was about to be tsujigiri’d. She sauntered closer to the hidden Kerman who heard her coming and braced himself for the pouncing strike. Marteen started running towards her and began to shout, “Watch ou….” But it was too late. Kerman had jumped from the corner with an inaudible vybafnout this time. Marteen watched as he sliced his hands and the metallic object through the air. Kerman’s hands stopped with the object inches away from the woman’s face. He shouted, “Here’s your nine iron, young, Asian, golfing superstar Michelle Wie.” The formerly “dead” and now crazy, golf club-wielding man ran away, never to be seen by Marteen again.

Sitzpinkler – A man who pees sitting down.
Tocka – Great spiritual anguish, a longing with nothing to long for.
Slampadato – Being addicted to the infrared glow of tanning salons.
Sgriob – The itchiness that overcomes the upper lip just before taking a sip of whiskey.
Gumusservi – Moonlight shining on water.
Pisan Zapra – The time needed to eat a banana.
Gigil – When something is so cute you have to pinch it.
Boketto – Gazing vacantly into the distance without thinking.
Pesamenteiro – One who shows up to a funeral for the food.
Shitta – Leftover dinner eaten for breakfast.
Kummerspeck – Weight gaining from emotional eating.
Bakku-shan – Seeing a woman who appears pretty from behind but not from the front.
Backpfeifengesicht – A face badly in need of a fist.
Manque – Having failed to become what one might have been.
Vybafnout – To jump out and say boo.
Tsujigiri – To test a new sword casually on a passerby.

- Isaac M. Comelli (5/12/13)

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

A Computer Is Smarter Than Me

Or maybe it was just luckier?

Almost a month ago during my regular playing for ESPN's game Streak for the Cash, I started out horribly. I began the month with an 0-9 record. It was terrible, disgraceful, and degrading. So I said to myself, "Forget this. I don't need to humiliate myself this way." Then I decided to delve into my fascination with pseudorandom number generation and chance. So, I put my computer to the test and let it take over all of my Streak for the Cash choices for the rest of the month.

I always looked for picks where the percentages weren't seemingly blowouts to attempt to maintain as much of a "coin flip" atmosphere as possible. Sticking as closely as possible to the 50-50 ratios, I let my computer simulate a luck-of-the-draw choice and the results are rather interesting. As one might hope to find, the computer did a pretty good job (with such a small sample size) of remaining close to 50% wins and losses. After starting 0-9, my end of the month results totaled 34 wins and 36 losses. Subtracting out my 9 losses that aren't attributed to the computer, that gives a final computer-generated result of 34-27 (55.7% win percentage). That's right about what I could have hoped for and expected.

So, it was fun while it lasted and I'm glad the results came out how I had thought they would. Alas, it's time for me to get back to choosing my own picks. Here's hoping I'll do much better than I was before I started this experiment!

- Isaac M. Comelli (5/1/13)

P.S. If you want to see my other blog posts related to this experiment, here they are:
The Beginning
The Middle
and this is The End.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Shot Blocking: Very Different When You're 5'6''

I played four years of basketball in High School, four years of intramural hoops in college, and regularly frequent local parks for pickup games. Reaching a soaring height of five feet, six inches, I have never been known for my shot blocking abilities. However, that doesn't mean I don't get the occasional swat at the rim. I just don't have the blocking talent of, say, Shaq, Dwight Howard, or the ever videogenic (it's about time someone made up that word) Dikembe Mutombo.

You may have seen Mr. Dikembe Mutombo Mpolondo Mukamba Jean-Jacques Wamutombo, as his friends call him, in a recent insurance commercial wherein he shows the joy he has for rejecting his opponents. This finger-wagging, 7'2'' center was an intimidating presence in the paint. Much unlike Mutombo, I am not a formidable foe against forwards flying to the hoop.

Throughout his NBA career, Mutombo had almost 3,300 blocks and I'm sure some variation of, "No no no! Not in my house!" was said or thought for each and every one of those. I, on the other hand, am able to pull off a block once in a blue moon. It's usually because I turn around and suddenly a guy is driving through the lane, so I stick my hand out and he happens to run the ball into my hand. When this rare feat happens, I definitely don't wag my finger or taunt my opponent. Usually this is the thought process going through my mind: "Teehee!" *:-D giddy school girl giggle* "Ouch, he really tweaked my arm there. Dang! I probably should have just let him score."

Alas, the game wasn't built for five and a half feet grown men to be swatting balls out of the air. Besides, when was the last time you saw Dikembe Mutombo do a crossover, penetrate the lane, and dish off the alley oop? Never! So, when I learn to do some of those moves, I will be better than him at one aspect of basketball! Until that day, it's park ball pickup games for me.

- Isaac M. Comelli (4/24/2013)

(Just to settle the debate, this is what would happen if Mutombo tried to come into MY house!)

Monday, April 15, 2013

Random Chance: Halfway Update

To update the progress on my randomly generated picks on ESPN's Streak for the Cash game, I bring you this picture which proves my monthly total to be 16-22. That means the "coin flip" has achieved a record of 16-13, a relatively expected total (just above 50%).

We are halfway through the month of April and the random numbers are proving to be much more average than I. Hopefully mediocrity follows it through the month.

(If you have no idea what I'm talking about, please see my earlier post)

- Isaac M. Comelli (4/15/2013)

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Yesterday I Decided to Make My Own App

I'm not sure why. I'm not a computer programmer and know very little about programming for anything, let alone apps. But, I love math, I like computers, and the idea I had for an app was relatively simple and won't require much fancy artwork or doo-hickees.

My idea is this: to create a pseudorandom number generator app. Why? Because there aren't many out there and the one I'm currently using isn't amazing. I felt like I could do better.

So, I'm off on a treasure hunt without much of a map. I've started downloading all these app developer programs my friend who knows about these things suggested I get. Here's hoping it works out easier than I suspect it will be!

Let me know if you would want or use this app if it were available.

- Isaac M. Comelli (4/9/2013)

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Random Chance

Some of you sports enthusiasts out there may be aware of the game on called Streak for the Cash. For those of you who haven't heard of it, it's a guessing game in which contestants try to pick results from sporting events throughout the day. If you guess correctly, your streak goes up by one. If you guess correctly five times in a row, your streak climbs to five (W5). If you guess incorrectly, your streak goes to negative one (L1) and you have to start over. At the end of every month, the person who compiles the longest win streak wins $50,000 in cold hard cash. But don't quit your day job just yet. This is no simple task. Habitually, the monthly winner has a preposterous streak of W20 or higher. I've been playing Streak for the Cash (or Streak, as I like to call it) since January 2010 and my best streak ever is a mere W10. But if you think you can win, give it a shot.

Anyway, the point of my blog entry today is to vent frustration and to attempt a new method. The month of April has started out miserably for me on Streak. In only 3 days, I've managed to collect a whopping nine losses in a row!

Normally my monthly rate for correct guesses is between 50 and 60 percent so I'm a far cry from that. I'm not one to give up, but the mathematician in me wondered, "Couldn't you be doing better if you let a pseudorandom number generator pick your choices for you?"

Now I know what you might be thinking. You probably doubt that a computer could come up with a better guess than I could with a little bit of research before making my selections. And you're right. Yet, my thought was, what if I were to take the picks that I would normally pass up because they were too close to make a decision and let the computer take a 50-50 guess at it? Over the course of the month, I ought to get at least close to half correct, right?

So, that's what I'm going to do. From April 4th until the end of this month, a computer will be choosing my picks for me. I'm interested to see what will happen and I hope to have some mediocre numbers to report, thus confirming my hypothesis.

For the mathematicians/programmers out there who might be curious in the code I used to generate my picks, I've included it below. I used Wolfram Mathematica and a simple Module function. If you have any questions about the code, feel free to ask in the comments.

WhichPick[ ] : = Module[{a, b, c, d},
  a = RandomInteger[{0, 1}, 1000000];
  b = Count[a, 0];
  If[b >= 500000, Print["Go with the favorite."],
   Print["Underdog for the win!"]]

- Isaac M. Comelli (4/3/2013)

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Cinderella Coach Cops Out On Coast Crew

The Cinderella story of Florida Gulf Coast University's Men's Basketball team from the 2013 March Madness has been heard by sports fan everywhere. If you missed the big news, here are the highlights:
  • The FGCU Eagles rearched the "Big Dance" in just their 3rd year as a D-I program
  • As the #15 seed, FGCU upset #2 Georgetown in the Round of 64, 78-68
  • #7 San Diego State fell in the Round of 32 to the Eagles by 10 points
  • Their 2nd win made FGCU the first 15-seed to reach the Sweet Sixteen in tournament history
  • The Eagles were defeated by their fellow Floridians, the Gators (U of F) in the Sweet Sixteen
  • The team became lovingly known as "Dunk City" with their acrobatic lobs and alley-oops
March Madness' complete coverage gave this unknown team instant fame after its first win. From there, the team's notoriety grew rapidly and the underdogs soon became the fan favorites. Despite their loss to #3 Florida, FGCU's team ended an amazing season with high spirits and high hopes for the next year. The Eagles were looking ahead to a year that would include a better recruiting class and a team that would lose only one senior while likely returning one junior and three sophomore starters. FGCU could have turned their program into one of the perennial mid-major contenders.

Alas, the head directs the body and FGCU's head (coach), Andy Enfield, was signed by USC's Men's Basketball program just 3 days after their tournament exit. If Kentucky's leader John Calipari were to announce he was leaving the program, the nation's #1 recruiting class would likely have some student-athletes skipping towns to head to Duke, Indiana, or Michigan. Unfortunately, much of the momentum the Eagles had built with their historic run could be cut off before it really gets rolling with the loss of their coach.

Sources say that Enfield's annual salary could increase from $157,000 to over a million because of the move. But I dare say that fans, parents, and Enfield's former players will ask the question, "Was it worth it?" In a society where commitment and loyalty suffer, it would have been nice to see the "Little Guy" stick to his guns and try to turn FGCU's program into a legitimate threat on a regular basis. Although the university's athletic department press release appears to be amicable, there is still a sense of regret and dissatisfaction.

- Isaac M. Comelli (4/2/2013)