Archive for March, 2010

The culture of the spreadsheet

Wednesday, March 31st, 2010

Up until I was about 12, 14, I was going to be a major league baseball player.

After that silly notion found itself smoldering in my burning heap of discarded dreams, I still remained interested in the sport. albeit from the dreaded “aficionado” perspective.

Baseball was beautiful. It was peaceful and thoughtful and chill. It moved slow and deliberately. I saw it as a major sport which required more finesse and specialized skill than other major sports. And it was all about statistics.

Stats, man. Baseball’s wonderful contribution to the world of sportsdom. Ages-old statistics, the basics which had existed from the beginning of the game, when Abner Doubleday breathed life into the sport. Classic baseball statistics like batting average, fielding percentage, slugging percentage, on-base percentage, earned run average…the list goes on.

Earned run average was my favorite for it bucked the usual “average” computations found in most sports which involve dividing a smaller number of “successful” events by the large number, the total number of “attempts.” Basic statistical equations which slapped you in the face with all the subtlety of a Louisville slugger. Nope, ERA was different. ERA was advanced math, by sporting standards. ERA takes into account that a standard baseball game is nine innings and thus standardizes the comparative factor to nine in order so we may conclusively compare how many runs a pitcher gives up over a span of 9 innings. Regardless of whether the pitcher is short- or long relief, a starter…it doesn’t matter. The ERA tells us how many runs the pitcher relinquishes based on the standard time clock of nine.

Beauty.

Baseball, a game of numbers, always was.
I marveled at baseball statistics.

Then it slowly started to unravel. Or maybe that’s the wrong word.
Intensify.
The statistics intensified.
When Bill James published his Baseball Abstract, I was in baseball heaven. James was a numbers guy and he brought a new level of intricate statistics to baseball, a manner of examining and distilling the most obscure data, he mined the craziest of stats, compiled them to bleed out the cleverest measurements of a baseball player’s efficacy on the field from a perspective way beyond simple batting average.

This was great, for it was geared toward the aficionado.
The armchair baseball guru who loved this stuff.

Then business got involved. Lost was the love of the game for its own sake. The game and its infinite columns and rows of figures and numerical representations of on-field happenings.

Business got involved.

I was reminded of this while reading an article on MSNBC today called Modern Baseball Has Become A Numbers Game. The article briefly details a new revolution in baseball statistics-keeping spearheaded by many front offices which placing greater emphasis and reliance on obscure statistics in lieu of the trusty opinion of the baseball scout of yore. The traditional baseball scout tracked statistics, but he relied on much more when it came to deciphering a young player’s potential. It was instinctual, intuitive; conclusions and opinions derived from watching the player and bringing all the extraneous, non-numerical data into a cohesive dossier which would rival most of what many of baseball’s neo-statisticians can squeeze from an endless series of numbers they’ve run through their personal pencil-necked sieve.

The article proceeds to explain just a few of these statistical hieroglyphics

PECOTA: Player Empirical Comparison and Optimization Test Algorithm. A system that projects a player’s future performance based on trends in his historical record. (And yes, it’s named for the former Royals utilityman, Bill Pecota).

VORP: Value Over Replacement Player. In essence, a statistical measure of how much better a player is than the big-league average at his position.

BABIP: Batting Average on Balls In Play: It can be a red flag in evaluating pitchers, as a high or low BABIP is hard to maintain year-to-year. So a pitcher with a high BABIP could have been the victim of bad luck — balls falling in, etc. And vice versa.

Secondary average: A player will have a high secondary average if he hits for power, takes walks and steals bases.

Zone ratings: Measurements of the proportion of ‘fieldable’ balls a player handles cleanly.

BABIP??
Zone ratings?

The quants have taken over.
How much longer before they fuck over baseball just like they fucked over our economy.
Numbers, numbers. We squeeze them, we tease them, we distill them and steam them and cook them and trim them until we delude ourselves into thinking we can explain every little hiccup in life with a cute equation.

Where is the mystery?
Where is the reliance on intuition. On perception?

Our reliance on numbers astounds me. It confuses me.

Because all I can ask is why?
Why must we expect that everything in the world can be reduced to a formula? That all events and happenings and minute instances are the direct result of a fixed set of laws, rules?

Are we so afraid of our hunches?
Do we fear our intuitions?
Why do we not trust our knowledge and deductive process? Judging by the earnestness with which people rely on charts and graphs and statistical minutiae in today’s world, I’m starting to think people have reached the point where they have lost such touch with their natural perceptions that they now need an Excel sheet to plot and chart and plan every decision around some illusory pivot table.

Even in my work place, overrun now with robotic MBA’s, numbers and analysis are expounded with fetishistic ferocity. Numbers squeezed and shaped to explain each every occurrence (or non-occurrence), sales anticipated, non sales anticipated, non-expected sales, explained or even struggled to be explained by numbers and spreadsheets…the shit gives me a headache. We throw so many numbers at the most basic items, it’s like trying to lift a boulder with an eyebrow tweezer. The obvious becomes the obscure. Numbers mystify, create enigma out of the mundane. That is the greatest and only skill taught in business school. That’s it…and maybe how to tie a full-windsor knot. Do they teach that at Pepperdine?

In the article, Mike Paul, a scout for the Colorado Rockies, says, “”I’ve been around long enough to know what it takes to win between the lines. Give me a guy with (guts) and who knows how to pitch. I’ll take him over the guy with more talent who may quit on you.”

All the numbers, and the crunching, in the world will never compute guts. Or lack of gumption.

Some boxers, while appearing less than fearsome on the surface, nevertheless possess that intense level of “heart” as trainers call it. That magical and invisible quality which drives one to supersede the equations.

The “outlier” as they are called by the numbers gurus. That damnable specimen who can’t be explained by equations.

Fuck it, spit out a chart, we’ll get to the bottom of this. In color, please.

A post-atomic sex dream. Interpretation up for grabs.

Wednesday, March 31st, 2010

I generally don’t post in the morning.

But I just came off a vivid and disturbing dream.
I still have the slight aftertaste of disgust rattling in my mouth.
I would call it pornographic but there was nothing sexual about it.

Ugh.

The dream spans a couple of scenes. A real fucked narrative.

At the beginning, I’m assembled with a large group of people. We’re waiting outside the doorway of a “lab” of sorts where some scientists are about to test a new invention. We slowly filter in but the scientists stop us. They tell us to leave. The experiment is too dangerous and no on should be in here except necessary personnel.

So we are pushed out, disappointedly.
The doors close and there is some kind of marker, light, can’t remember, which tells us the experiment has begun. It’s like the kind of light you might see outside a sound stage where taping is going on.

So we wait outside while the experiment begins and a multitude of strange and loud sounds can be heard from behind the door. Loud, scary, scientific and Frankensteinian sounds.

I wander away from the crowd, lost in my thoughts.
It seems that a brilliant light illuminates from behind the doors. (Now, rationally, I wonder why a door barricading a dangerous experiment would allow light to seep through… )

As I’m standing far away, there is a loud bang. It’s a bang. Not an explosion, not a boom…a bang.

A loud bang, and suddenly, commotion from behind the door. The scientists rush out, panicked, tell us to run. One of the scientists tells us, in my dreamy gobbledygook, that the experiment went wrong. Something, a gas, a cloud, was unleashed which will kill everyone. We all run out into the fresh air, fear pushing us. As I’m running for my life, I glance up at the sky, and there, billowing upwards, is a tall plume of black particles, a cloud which streams upwards and begins to expands once it reaches the atmospheric ceiling. It expands and begins coating and encircling Earth’s atmosphere.

And we are running as fast as we can even though we know that there is no outrunning this menace that is surrounding the planet.

We are all dead, or will be. And we know it.
Still we run. I begin climbing down, descending a brushy ravine. It’s dark but the air feels odd with the poisonous particles.

Suddenly, having left the ravine, I am walking with a group of people. It’s a death march. We are no longer running. Resignation, I suppose.

We are resigned and marching, walking, towards something.
What I don’t know.

I come upon an elderly, rickety woman. Frail and thin, sickly. I can’t remember her face, for I never saw it. I didn’t need to, there was no need.

As we walk, death surrounding us, I ask her if she wants to have sex.
She nods happily in that herky jerky senior citizen manner.

I feel disgust. But in face of the certain death, it’s comforting.

We end up at an indoor mall of sorts, a bazaar.

Then we’re in a room and we unpeel our clothes.
Her body, gnarled and ravaged with illness and age.
I climb on top of her and her skin feels taut and abrasive and as I penetrate her there is no pleasure.
It is a sickly sensation and no matter how much I continue I cannot find any arousal.
But she enjoys?
We continue for a long time.
And though I stay erect I cannot move past that. Then she is surrounded by men in white coats and I stand off to the side, awaiting, while they examine her. A doctor alludes to the fact he may need to drain her vulva because it is too swollen and he holds a large needle. They decide against it. The procedure is too dangerous. They all concur. (More rational post-dream thoughts…the world is ending, what difference does it make if the procedure is too dangerous?).

The medical “professionals” leave us alone again.
They couldn’t help the situation. Whatever it was that was wrong with the situation, for that isn’t clear.

Whatever the case, we decide we can’t have sex anymore.
That much is disappointingly clear.

The old lady, feeling perhaps bad for me since she had fun, volunteers to blow me.
And next thing you know…

I’m watching as her deathly mouth, blueish tongue, enwraps my erect penis.

Her shoulder, the top of her back, visible as her garment has slipped down. Old, discolored, gray.

Death, old, and I’m fighting it.

Thankfully the dream ends.

My apologies. That is the most vivid dream I’ve had in a long while and I need to vent it out, despite its horrifically embarrassing, and I presume, personally revealing nature.

God knows what it reveals.

Ambition death

Tuesday, March 30th, 2010

To the Western mind.

Always must preface my thoughts with that disclaimer.
For sometimes my thinking seems so un-Western. Or un-modern? Un-something.
So abstract and non-linear and fully un-left brainlike.

To the Western mind.

Ambition.
A drive, a longing, which describes a state of a sense of responsibility and longing for all things material and tangible and where “success” is proven by such clutter in one’s life.

Ambition.
Spoken of in awed tones.
In breathless utterances of prized conveyances.

He is so ambitious!
She is such an ambitious woman!

Stellar!
Ambition gets you what you want.
Doesn’t it?
Ambition, the drive to reap rewards and the drive to work hard and the drive to direct all one’s energies at that which is solid and profitable and assembled with the intent purpose of procuring.
Procuring goods, procuring prestige, procuring power.

Power.
It’s all about power.
Money is power.
Status is power.
Power is good.
Power is the Western idea of Nirvana.
Power!

I thought of an analogy today after reading Sofia’s anti-ambition proclamation.

Ambition…is drive for power.
In most instances.

Have you heard that dietitians and nutritions advise clients that hunger is often merely disguised thirst? If you’re hungry, try drinking a glass of water. Hunger is simply your mind’s expression of an inability to recognize or untrained response to thirst. Get something down the gullet, your body tells you, but you substitute the signal for “hunger.”

I think ambition, the majority of the time in our society, is a thinly disguised lust for power.
Assuming an absolutely egalitarian society in which the idea of power and superiority do not exist, what motive is there for ambition? The capitalists and free-marketers win the circular argument.

Ambition can take many forms but in the materialistic Western ideal, it is the expression of the urge to multiply and expand fixed resources.

Never mind that ambition, in the dictionary sense, is a neutrally valued trait which only describes one’s reach for excellence.
Excellence need not be profitable or monetary. Does it?

Must excellence result in glittery items by default?
I question the ambition matrix.
Why must I justify our cultural cynicism in the face of my undriven ass?

Ambition is also gender-laden.
Easier for Sofia to say she is unambitious because in our mind she has the capability of hooking up with an ambitious (and traditionally) male mind thus satisfying and enabling her passive materialistic constraints.

Men, we are told, are ambitious.
Competitive.
But once again, the ambition and competitiveness framed only in the context of career, belongings, toys, balance sheets…

Those of us with sparse and minimalist definitions of ambition are left…

On how I shunned a loyal computer for the sake of a hot, sultry and kinda scary French actress

Monday, March 29th, 2010

Uh huh, yeah yeah, I know.
I’ve been a bit scarce lately.

Well, scarce for me anyways.
My last post was on Saturday and I haven’t really stuck around so I could comment on each and every comment individually as is my “style.”

I’ve been tied up.

You see I had a vasectomy this weekend and they accidentally removed my balls.
OK, that’s not true.

In fact, none of it is true.
And that was a really weird thing to say.
What the hell? Is it because I’ve been absent from bloggery that I’m tripping so?

Well, I have been tied up. I was burying an old friend. An old friend I’ve known intimately since 2002. I’m sure it’s a “he.” His name is Compaq. How is that for devotion? How many other people you know stick with a computer that long when they have no financial reason for it?

Look man, I’m currently following a strict austerity program (have been for at least 3 years) and I’ve brought all my superfluous (and a lot of not-so-superfluous) spending to a grinding halt. It’s a radical and confusing departure from the lifestyle spanning my 20s through early 40s when I never met a dollar I didn’t love to spend.

Because of this, I’ve persisted in computing on an 8-year-old desktop computer and bulky monitor that has a smaller screen than the cock of many male porn stars.

This is a photo of the cast off cyber waste:

Sigh.
You see…I couldn’t hold out any longer.

Not when Chatroulette beckons.
It’s all about new, and different.

I’m a sucker for the “new” and the “edgy.”

Right now Chatroulette certainly seems to qualify. I want to get in on the action before popularity eats away at its novel seaminess. Only problem is that my 8-year-old Compaq would take to a webcam’s voracious computing appetite like Kirstie Alley would take to skinny jeans.

Ain’t happening.

My old Compaq would turn to silicon mush under such an oppressive load.

Even Hulu is a nightmare for the Compaq.
Watching anything Hulu on that old computer proved agonizing. Every video was subject to random hiccups, pauses, speed distortions, scary sound distortions…watching Hulu on my Compaq was seriously turning into a ‘shroom-like experience minus the vomiting and radiant sunsets.

Watching the Compaq trying to playback an episode of Family Guy was like watching a very old man painfully make his way to the bathroom only to piss his pants right at the doorway. Pure agony. If computers could cry and shriek, my Compaq was doing it under the onslaught of Hulu.

So there was no way I could contemplate Chatroulette without first investing in some new machinery.

So off I trudged to Best Buy yesterday, and at 1:00 it was luxuriously empty and devoid of large families with noisy kids looking for cheap entertainment (as in, we’re too cheap to even splurge for lunch at Chuck E Cheese). I don’t like shopping, I don’t like asking questions; when I walk into a store, I have done my research and I know what the hell I want. Apparently that is an unusual and slightly unnerving customer trait for most “customer service” sales types because they run at you with a whole litany of scripts and rehearsed pitches and if you don’t fit the typical customer profile, they aren’t quite sure what do do. Should they be thankful or call the police?

So there I am, meandering into the quiet Best Buy, holding a printout of exactly what I want to buy. The reason I chose Best Buy was due to the fact that they are offering an interest-free financing deal which applies as long as you pay off your purchase ($249 or greater) in 18 months or less. No problem there, I could pay it in full now but if Chase Manhattan is willing to float me some free money, I’m an idiot not to bite. Pre-austerity David would not have concerned himself with interest rates. You wanna charge me 23% annual interest? Go right ahead, I’m going to walk out of here with my brand new fill in the blank! Charge me what you like because I’m a foolish consumer. Tell me how much, I’ll write the check. As long as I can have stuff. Stuff and stuff, lots of stuff, more stuff!

There is no such thing as “in and out” when you’re buying a computer.
And a monitor and a stinking webcam.

It’s hard to say no to all the warranties they offer. Happens everytime…eventually I give in and buy one. You never know. It’s all about fear. What if my new Dell explodes or unleashes a bolt of lightning from its virgin innards? When you’re forking out $1100, fear lives in your loins.

And how is it that $549 becomes $1100 so slyly?

OK, the Geek Squad inspected this, they turned it on, got rid of some excessive programs, supposedly sped it up, as the salesman proudly informed me. They even put a sticker on the box. Whoa!

The Geek Squad prepped my computer, I’m in business now! And it only cost me $70. A steal. And for a couple hundred more bucks, I’m guaranteed a free visit from a bonafide Geek in the next 2 years should my new computer decide to check out early.

My poor salesman.
Short Mexican enters store, send the junior salesman to help him! That no-disposable income bean-eating Julio, he’s just here for the A/C or maybe he’s casing out the customers. Send Tony!

Tony, my salesman was a really personable Asian dude about my height (ah, it’s a height thing!) but he was slightly spastic. He carried all the literature in hand and he rushed about like a madman servicing me. At one point he waved and sent a plastic sectional sign near the webcams flying up in the air. It took him a while to re-insert it into the holder. When it came time to check me out, his terminal shut down on him and would not come back to life. He asked for help but all his co-workers seemed shockingly disinterested. Even those who attempted to help seemed to have all the expertise of Geek Squad University flunkie. Finally Tony moved me to another terminal but the wand there didn’t work. And this was after he lugged the 3 boxes across the full length of the customer counter. He was really flustered and aggravated, but it seemed that the more obstacles presented themselves, the more he laughed. It was great! Finally, after the 3rd try, he led me to one of the regular cash registers where he proceeded to close my sale out. When he handed me the receipt, he happily thanked me and shook my hand, and it wasn’t until then that I realized just how sweaty the dude was. He was getting a work out, lugging my 3 boxes back and forth and the palm of his hand was soaked, as if he’d just washed his hands without drying. Perspiration dribbled down his forehead. Poor guy.

In the end, it was all worth it.

I can now fixate on a 22″ spread of Beatrice Dalle.
Interest free. I’m a blessed man.

I wonder if she’ll be on Chatroulette??

Just another happily unmarried diatribe.

Saturday, March 27th, 2010

A post up on Seasons of Tumult And Discord this morning which calls to task the popular and media-driven perception that married women get laid more than single men.

The comments predictably concur, including my own.

You have this modern pop culture which is really nothing but “pop.”

As in fueled by all that which the media conglomerates spew in order to rake in the dollar$.

Studies, marketing surveys, they all tell us what we know: the biggest media consumers are women in their 20s and 30s. They are the group that sits in front of the television most. They are the group which absorbs television through its porous membranes.

The mainstream media, knowing this, regurgitates its viewer’s wet dreams; in this case, the Grand Tale of the Prince Charming / Marriage Complex. Consequently all factual “information” which pours out their vacuous mouths is the popular meme that Marriage is Good; Marriage has Benefits; et fucking c.

How many studies have you heard of which proclaim that married people live longer!?

I loved Bill Maher’s take on this from his “Feminist” bit:

I was married for 7 years.

I experienced most facets of marriage I could ever experience within the bounds of sanity.

I realized something that I’ll never learn to forget.
Marriage is like brussel sprouts.
It delights some.
It disgusts others.
No one can deny the benefits.

There shouldn’t be judgment involved.
One’s perception and desire should not color their opinion.

I love brussel sprouts.
I don’t expect every one I meet to love them.
Why am I talking about brussel sprouts?
Don’t you love Phoenixism?

C’mon, lie if you have to.

I’m married to Phoenixism, actually.

I can sit here and spew about the instituion of marriage ad nauseum.
We are all married in one form.
Even my good righty friend, Mark.

The lowest amongst us are married to utter, debilitating solitude.
Married to the rug.
Married to an empty image.

What is wrong with being married to another person who complements your spiritual emptiness?

My parents have been married for 45 years.

You cannot live together with someone that long without a serious Adult Moment.

There is a dignity which I admire.

I wish it could be mine, but it’s not. And never will be.
My fatalistic nature always triumphs. Unhappiness is a strong draw.
I need what I want now.

I’m not incredibly forward-reaching. I know what will make me happy tomorrow.
But I need to be happy today.
The greatest of all fucking predicaments.

Athol has the balls to expose his married life to this coven of male interlopers.

We fear his life.
We run from it. Some of us have fled it. Escaped it.
But he lives it.
And who knows.
Maybe Athol is really a disgruntled and overweight middle-aged, unmarried woman from Connecticut.

The point is that Athol speaks for many happily married people.
Who cares the grounds of their happiness?

Be happy for yourself.
Derive happiness in your life.
Don’t worry about those stinking married people.