A calling ...

"We are called to be architects of the future, not its victims."

"Make the world work for 100% of humanity in the shortest possible time through spontaneous cooperation without ecological offense or the disadvantage of anyone."

- Buckminster Fuller

Friday, August 22, 2014

Summer Reading plus the intersection of sports and life

"Girolamo Cardano was the first man to take Fortune hostage. It could be argued, in fact that the invention of probability was the root cause of the decline, over the last few centuries, of superstition and religion. If unpredictable events obey mathematical laws there is no need to have them explained by deities. The secularization of the world is usually associated with thinkers like Charles Darwin and Friederich Nietzsche, yet quite possibly the man who set the ball rolling was Cardano." (Bellos, A., 2011) 
My reading selections this summer have not been nearly as ambitious as they have been at times during the past, when I was more desperate to find employment, but Here's Looking at Euclid has been quite the struggle this summer. If it were not for audiobooks -- I am currently on disc 15 of 18 of Jane Eyre -- I might otherwise feel disappointed and unfulfilled because I have not completed more books in print, largely because one book that reads at times like a puzzle, with mathematical concepts and visualizations that require a level of mental effort to comprehend them that does not lend itself to the kind of marathon reading sessions I enjoy so much, has held me at bay all summer. When a book seems worthy, however, despite the feeling of being in slightly over my head, realizing that "the juice is worth the squeeze," I have always had the mental stamina needed to extract the treasures from a well written book over an extended period of time. Bellos description of the mathematics of chance that underlies both one-armed bandits and insurance premiums, both Las Vegas and Wall Street, is but one of several take-aways that make reading this book, which has cost me so much time and effort, dare-I-say, enjoyable.

Here's an amusing game of chance. With my Washington Nationals baseball team on a 10 game winning streak, recognized by the sports writing luminary Thomas Boswell as a truly rare, once-in-a-decades occurrence, Grant and Danny from 106.7 the Fan decided to partake in what I consider a hilarious, high wire radio bit!

Yesterday, with the Nationals' winning streak at 9 games, Grant and Danny decided to go "all Nats all the time" as long as Nats continue winning. Today, at the beginning of the show, after the 10th win, another improbable walk-off beauty decided in the 9th inning, Grant and Danny invited their boss, CK, on the air and were ribbing their boss good-naturedly, "what if the Nats don't lose another game all season?" CK replied with a thinly veiled threat about the show being on the hot-seat, since everybody knows that "all Nats all the time" has a high probability of becoming "ratings poison." Probably, even Matt Williams did not expect this team to go on a 10-game winning streak when he promised to do his Babe Ruth impression if the team were to achieve that remarkable feat, but now world is watching and waiting. With the San Francisco Giants on a long road trip, having just completed a double header with New York, even though the Nats must face their nemesis Tim Hudson, who always seems to beat them, the Nats counter with Doug Fister on the mound. Will the streak continue? I like their chances

What if the Nats do keep winning? With another installment of grand theater occurring tonight, with Dave Jageler and Henry Slowes doing the play-by-play and commentary on the Nationals flagship station, I cannot wait to see how the Grant and Danny's bit might end. Hopefully, not tonight!

In DC, Washington's football team -- I no longer use the team's name because the kind-hearted Washington Post journalist Mike Wise long ago, when he had the mid-day show on the Fan, persuaded me that my childhood team's name is extremely offensive -- is the undisputed king of DC's entertainment market, the 800 pound gorilla in the room. In my case, I have obsessed over Washington's football team since the days of George Allen and "The Over The Hill Gang," i.e., for over 40 years, but during the NFL preseason, everybody knows that the preseason games do not matter. Despite the fact that what Sean Salisbury calls "fake football" is clearly an inferior product, the media around town has always given the team, even during the preseason, what some might consider an inordinate amount of coverage. Why? Money.

Since the WFT has performed terribly and has, in so many well-documented ways, seemed to take the fanbase for granted ever since Dan Snyder took over the team, suing little old ladies who didn't renew their tickets, suing a small local paper that wrote a satirical article featuring a picture of Mr. Snyder that had been cartoonishly edited to include devil horns, etc., my interest in following every change in WFT's roster during the preseason, has waned. I get the sense that the ubiquity of the local media coverage has also shrunk, much like our polar ice caps. Given how my interest has diminished, I wonder whether others feel the same way about a product which many perceive has become inferior. Is it possible that the market for "fake football" in DC has, in fact, taken a downward trend? Is this the tip of the iceberg? Are entertainment tastes shifting under our feet? Grant and Danny have provided a fun, fascinating experiment to test the proposition that the DC sports entertainment market might find the celebration of a hot pennant race, with a "once in a decade" streak to be more interesting than so-called "news" from training camp(s)?

Will the DC entertainment market take notice of a rare moment of innovation, when somebody in the media had the stones to go "all in," to actually perform a high-stakes experiment that might actually produce facts, i.e., ratings, rather than blindly accepting dogma? Grant and Danny's experiment might crash and burn, and might prove to be "ratings poison," but I like it! As I was reading about data and chance today, I came across a mathematical idea that might give local fans a reason for hope.

"Randomness is not smooth. I creates areas of empty space and overlap... Randomness can explain why some small villages have hither than normal rates of birth defects, why certain roads have more accidents, and why some games basketball players seem to score every free throw. It's also why in 7 of the last 10 World Cup soccer finals at least two players shared birthdays." (Bellos, 2011)
Joe just popped his head in and exclaimed, "There can't be anything more exciting than this. Can't we go?"

I replied, "I don't have the money." Joe, of course, persisted. I reminded him about the last time we were at Nationals Park. The seats had been filled with mostly orange. There had been a rain delay -- 30,000 fans had been stuck under the concourse for over 3 hours before they called that game. The Washington part of the equation did not show up to to the make up game. Those who did return, like myself, failed to wear red. If we went during the streak, I argued, sounding very reasonable, it would be bad karma. "We can't go, it would be bad karma."

Joe uttered the gambler's fallacy in reply. "They normally win when we go."

"If the streak reaches 14 games, we will go," I relented, knowing that would be a highly unlikely occurrence, worth the risk of loss, and highly entertaining. What would Grant and Danny be talking about then? Would it be "ratings poison?" I can't wait to find out, just like I can't wait to find out how Jane Eyre ends. There are few things more intriguing than a good mystery.

Bellos, Alex. Here's Looking at Euclid: From Counting Ants to Games of Chance, an Awe-inspiring Journey through the World of Numbers. New York, NY: Free, 2011. Print.