29 June 2007

Fun with nostrils

A long time ago I noticed that I breathe almost solely through just one nostril at any one time.  The "open" nostril seems to switch back and forth fairly regularly.  I've asked others about it and I've never found anyone who knows what I'm talking about.  I remember asking my biology teacher in high school, and when he said he had never heard of such a condition I got a little worried, but I never did anything about it.

Well, it turns out that I'm not crazy or broken after all:  I just found that this phenomenon is called the nasal cycle and it's perfectly normal.  What a relief!  I guess most people just never notice it.

It may be that I noticed it because, for some reason, breathing through my right nostril is more comfortable than through my left.  Also, when my head is on its side for a while, the nostril on top tends to open up sooner.  That's why I always go to sleep on my side with my right side up and my left side down.

I just couldn't help sharing these revelations.

21 June 2007

Lawyer needed

Do any of O's old law-school friends still read this blog?  I could use a bit of legal advice.  Yesterday I forgot to move my car for street-sweeping day and got a ticket.  Or at least a ticket was left on my car—a sloppy cop wrote the correct license plate number on it but the wrong state ("MO" even though my car is registered in Texas).  Now it's possible that I could just ignore the ticket and hope they realize they made a mistake and dismiss it without trying to track me down.  But I was parked in front of my apartment building, so they wouldn't have too much trouble finding me if they wanted to.

Here's what I want to know:  Could I successfully contest the ticket on the grounds that it was incorrectly filled out?  Is that technicality enough to get me off, or would the fact that I showed up contesting the ticket constitute prima facie evidence that the offending car was mine, allowing them to prosecute anyway?  (Also, is there a free website that would tell me whether there actually is a Missouri license plate with the same number?)  Twenty bucks are at stake here!

16 June 2007

Pythagorean baseball

Luck plays a bigger part in baseball than most fans assume.  While long-term performance can usually be predicted fairly accurately from past performance (if appropriate corrections are made to account for changing circumstances such as park, player age and level of competition), short-term results depend mostly on chance.

One way a team can get lucky is to score and allow runs at the right times, winning by a little and losing by a lot.  Bill James discovered that, in the long run, a team's winning percentage can be predicted very accurately by looking only at the number of runs it's scored and allowed.  For example, last year the Cleveland Indians scored 870 runs and allowed 782.  Intuitively, one might think that they would have been expected to win 870 / (870 + 782) = 52.6634% of their games.  But James found that the effect of the run differential is stronger than that, and the expected winning percentage is closer to 8702 / (8702 + 7822) = 55.3118%, giving a "Pythagorean" win-loss record of about 90-72.  (Actually, the best exponent seems to be around 1.83 rather than 2, but 2 is a good approximation.  Interestingly, different exponents work best for different sports like football (2.85) and basketball (16.5).)

But Cleveland's 2006 record wasn't 90-72 but only 78-84, good enough for fourth place in the AL Central.  More than any other team that year, they tended to win by a lot and lose by a little, wasting some of their run production and prevention.  By this measure, they were about 12 games unlucky.  The 2006 New York Mets also had a Pythagorean win-loss record of 90-72, but they ended up at 97-65 and won the NL East by 12 games, 7 of them by luck.

So how would this season be different if this kind of luck were factored out?  The Athletics, Padres, Tigers and Cubs would be leading their divisions.  Boston's lead would be down to 1½ games.  And the worst record in the majors would belong to the world champion St. Louis Cardinals, who lost to Oakland last night 14-3 but have won enough close games to be ahead of three teams in the NL Central.

Note that this measure only expresses luck due to run distribution among a team's games.  It doesn't capture the luck due to hit/walk distribution within a game, which can be substantial.  (Think of bunching five singles in one inning as opposed to spreading them out among five innings.)  But that's a topic for another time.

13 June 2007

My very own hit!

Today MR DON FABIANO JUTOLIO CHICHI e-mailed me to let me know that someone has hired him to have me killed for half a million dollars.  How exciting!  That's certainly boosted my ego.  And apparently I'm so important and/or wily that a team of 15 has been deployed to take me out.  I wonder what they have planned for me!

Wait, it's just a spam extortion scam.  Oh well.  At least it was a fun one.  I guess they're going after the gullible rich market (which has surely been made smaller by Scientology).

10 June 2007

Two feelms and a flick

Since O has been out of the country I've gone to see three movies, coincidentally all with surprise pregnancies: Waitress, Knocked Up and Mr. Brooks.  The pregnancies are more or less central to the plot in Waitress and Knocked Up.  They're both heartfelt and very funny and I'd recommend both of them to almost anyone.

In contrast, the plot of Mr. Brooks is too overloaded for the pregnancy even to register.  I saw it yesterday; reviews were mixed, but it just sounded interesting.  Kevin Costner stars as an accomplished businessman and family man who sometimes gives in to his addiction to killing people.  William Hurt plays the antisocial aspect of his personality who sits next to him in his car and has conversations with him.  These scenes, like most of the rest of the movie, must have sounded ridiculous on paper, but they're actually very effective.  On the whole the movie had way too much going on, it was mostly implausible and one character's motivation was hard to understand, but it was damn fun and the twists were satisfying and unguessable.  Thumbs up.

Any other great movies out right now?  Leave a comment!

04 June 2007

Voting reform, good and bad

My co-hosting appearance on Michael Badnarik's "Lighting the Fires of Liberty" this morning went very well, though there were many interesting and important topics we didn't have time to get to.  I described why Instant Runoff Voting, a popular reform, isn't so great and why Approval Voting is a much better reform for single-winner elections.  One example I used to show how IRV can fail in practice was Badnarik's own LP nomination for president in 2004; if he had received just a handful fewer votes in one round, he would have been eliminated even though a majority preferred him to either of the other two major contenders.  He would almost certainly have won easily under Approval.

This morning's show has been archived at wtprn.com.  I'd love to hear what you think.  I was surprised how quickly two hours flew by!  I hope he invites me back on sometime.

More importantly, Ron Paul will be a guest on The Daily Show tonight.  He'll also be back in the third Republican presidential debate tomorrow night on CNN.  I wish I had cable just for times like this.

03 June 2007

On the air

Tomorrow (Monday) morning from 7:00 to 9:00 (CDT) I'll be the guest host on "Lighting the Fires of Liberty", a radio program hosted by Michael Badnarik, 2004 presidential candidate.  We'll be talking about voting reform in general and Approval Voting in particular. Listen live and call in!