Month: October 2011
Moneybase: Moving the A’s (Rough Draft Version, part 1)
by Ken Arneson
2011-10-26 23:27

In my previous job, I built a big database of zipcodes and geolocations, and distances between those zip codes. The server that this database lived on is getting shut down sometime in the next 24 hours. A couple days ago, I suddenly realized I could use that database to answer a few questions I’ve had about where the A’s should be moving.

So I’ve been scrambling to try to get some queries done, before the server goes away. I managed to get the work done once, but I didn’t get a chance to double-check anything, so take all this with a gigantic grain of “this is a first draft” kind of salt.

* * *

The raw data I had was from the 2000 census and included:

  • every 5-digit zip code in the United States (about 40,000 of them)
  • the latitude and longitude of each of those zip codes, and
  • population and median household income for about 30,000 of those zip codes

I’m not sure why 10,000 zip codes don’t have population and income data. Probably some of them represent entities (like governments and such) that aren’t geographic locations with residents. But not all of them. For example, the zip code that includes Safeco Field in Seattle was among the zip codes missing data. Baltimore looks like it’s missing a big chunk of data. Plus, there’s no Canadian data either, so the Blue Jays are unrepresented, as are probably some additional Tigers and Mariners fans. So I’m sure the data needs a real good scrubbing, so I’ll repeat my warning about the rough nature of this data.

From the geodata, I calculated the distance between any two zipcodes that were less than 150 miles apart.

* * *

If you’re going to build a ballpark somewhere, you’d want to put it somewhere:

  • with as many people as possible
  • who have as much money as possible
  • who live as near to the ballpark as possible

So I came up with a formula to reflect this. For this exercise, I don’t really need to know the exact amount of money a ballpark can generate, I just need a number I can use to compare with. So median household income will do just fine, even though it’s not at all an accurate representation of how much money is available to spend on baseball.

So here’s what I did: For each zip code within 75 miles of a MLB ballpark, I took the population and multiplied it with the median household income of that zipcode, to give that zipcode a total amount of money for that zipcode. (I should probably have divided by average household size, but we’re after relative comparisons here, so it doesn’t matter too much.) Then for each mile that zipcode was from the ballpark, I subtracted 1/75th of that total from the score for that zipcode.

So the closer the zipcode is to the ballpark, the more money from that zipcode is assigned to the team.

Then I repeated the exercise for five potential A’s homes: the Coliseum, Victory Court, Fremont, San Jose, and Sacramento.

Once I had done that, I did it for every minor league park that was more than 75 miles from any existing MLB park, plus Portland, Honolulu, and Anchorage.

* * *

The (rough) results, for your viewing pleasure:

zip team city state relative market size
10451 Yankees Bronx NY $ 752,743,595,112
11368 Mets Corona NY $ 748,642,916,914
90012 Dodgers Los Angeles CA $ 510,586,706,490
92806 Angels Anaheim CA $ 429,295,980,560
60616 White Sox Chicago IL $ 353,523,094,940
60613 Cubs Chicago IL $ 351,956,542,055
19148 Phillies Philadelphia PA $ 313,899,514,792
20003 Nationals Washington DC $ 313,043,794,378
94107 Giants San Francisco CA $ 276,531,798,517
02215 Red Sox Boston MA $ 258,052,953,191
48201 Tigers Detroit MI $ 194,991,345,880
76011 Rangers Arlington TX $ 184,979,524,329
77002 Astros Houston TX $ 184,030,914,939
30315 Braves Atlanta GA $ 166,992,030,231
55403 Twins Minneapolis MN $ 138,398,423,288
33125 Marlins Miami FL $ 134,237,186,849
85004 Diamondbacks Phoenix AZ $ 126,863,473,073
98134 Mariners Seattle WA $ 123,032,784,722
80205 Rockies Denver CO $ 120,203,857,817
92101 Padres San Diego CA $ 119,511,331,778
44115 Indians Cleveland OH $ 114,814,235,603
53214 Brewers Milwaukee WI $ 114,411,126,303
63102 Cardinals St. Louis MO $ 95,088,871,967
45202 Reds Cincinnati OH $ 93,961,385,672
15212 Pirates Pittsburgh PA $ 91,812,365,763
33705 Rays St. Petersburg FL $ 86,162,065,166
64129 Royals Kansas City MO $ 75,617,221,577
21201 Orioles Baltimore MD $ 51,550,959,511
94621 Coliseum Oakland CA $ 302,835,904,135
94538 Fremont Fremont CA $ 301,356,267,461
94607 Victory Ct Oakland CA $ 288,464,089,740
95110 San Jose San Jose CA $ 244,281,690,385
95691 Sacramento West Sacramento CA $ 122,189,968,456
97205 Portland Portland OR $ 86,934,977,194
43223 Columbus Columbus OH $ 82,466,829,644
48912 Lansing Lansing MI $ 80,674,718,903
46225 Indianapolis Indianapolis IN $ 76,724,547,759
29715 Charlotte Fort Mill SC $ 66,474,729,100
27401 Greensboro Greensboro NC $ 61,196,329,994
23510 Norfolk Norfolk VA $ 58,754,813,183
14020 Batavia Batavia NY $ 58,698,864,009
78664 Round Rock Round Rock TX $ 57,730,378,193
78227 San Antonio San Antonio TX $ 57,705,434,009
27597 Carolina Zebulon NC $ 56,677,487,954
49017 Southwest MI Battle Creek MI $ 54,991,532,182
27105 Winston-Salem Winston Salem NC $ 54,919,270,523
14608 Rochester Rochester NY $ 54,337,641,491
89101 Las Vegas Las Vegas NV $ 53,809,399,974
37203 Nashville Nashville TN $ 53,707,382,854
49321 West Michigan Comstock Park MI $ 53,532,262,868
84058 Orem Orem UT $ 52,659,523,005
70003 New Orleans Metairie LA $ 51,061,101,559
40202 Louisville Louisville KY $ 50,940,204,646
14203 Buffalo Buffalo NY $ 50,893,985,379
32114 Daytona Daytona Beach FL $ 48,253,823,630
18505 Scranton-Wilkes Scranton PA $ 47,728,598,665
23230 Richmond Richmond VA $ 47,551,291,211
32940 Brevard County Melbourne FL $ 47,518,011,693
84401 Ogden Ogden UT $ 46,138,307,179
38103 Memphis Memphis TN $ 44,483,924,752
13021 Auburn Auburn NY $ 43,555,185,837
29607 Greenville Greenville SC $ 43,508,445,289
91730 Rancho Cucamonga Rancho Cucamonga CA $ 39,638,600,052

* * *

These results, outside of Baltimore, smell more or less right to me.

Next, though, I tried to put some measure on what happens to a market when it is shared between teams. This is where the results surprised me, enough so, that I think I probably screwed up somewhere.

I’ll address that in an upcoming blog post.

My Steve Jobs Story
by Ken Arneson
2011-10-05 23:49

I’m sure my friends who work at Apple will have better Steve Jobs stories than this one, but this the one I’ve got, and this is the day to tell it.

Back in August of 1996, I helped found a company called Intraware. We started the company on the basic idea of being a reseller of web software to corporations. We also wanted to eat our own dog food — to use the web software we were selling to run our business efficiently.

The problem was, back in late 1996, all this software sucked. I was looking for some software, any software, that I could use as a platform to program our corporate web site with, and I literally could not find anything that I could actually get to do what I wanted it to do.

So during this process of searching for a functioning web programming environment, I went to a conference at the Moscone Center in San Francisco. I don’t even remember what the conference was, but I do remember there were a ton of web software companies there with booths and stuff.

And at some point during this conference, Steve Jobs was giving a presentation. This was during the Jobs’ wilderness years away from Apple. He was presenting the latest stuff that his company at the time, NeXT Computers, was working on.

I decided, what the hell, I’ll check out. I had already given NeXT’s WebObjects a look-see and rejected it. I thought it was way too complicated with too big a learning curve for our needs, plus their code generated the longest, ugliest damn URLs I had ever seen. (Which was odd, since Jobs’ companies otherwise never made anything ugly.) But maybe I’d learn something new.

Ten years later, whenever Steve Jobs gave a presentation, it was the hottest ticket in town. But back in 1996, I just showed up to his presentation, wandered in, and found a seat somewhere around the third row, and sat down to enjoy the show.

I honestly can’t remember a damn thing he presented. I do remember his stage presence, though. And then this: about 3/4 of the way through the presentation, he stopped to give an aside. “By the way,” he said (I’m paraphrasing it from memory here), “we’re looking for distributors for our products. So if you know anyone interested in distributing our stuff, please contact us.”

Looking back on that, it’s pretty funny. Can you imagine Apple begging for distributors? But that’s where NeXT was at the time, having trouble getting their foot in the door of corporate America.

And, as it so happens, the problem that NeXT was having was exactly the problem that Intraware was founded to solve. So when I got back to the office, I told our people, and they contacted Jobs’ people, and meetings started to happen. And then, not too long after that, there was an agreement.

Part of the agreement was that in exchange for selling NeXT products, we would get free use their software, and free training. So for a week in early December of 1996, I spent a week at NeXT headquarters, taking classes in how to program using WebObjects. I remember getting a tour of their very nice offices. We walked by Jobs’ office at one point. He wasn’t there.

So anyway, everything was ready and lined up for Intraware to start selling NeXT products after the new year except crossing the t’s and dotting the i’s on the final contract.

And then, on December 20, 1996, Apple bought NeXT. Steve Jobs returned to Apple.

And NeXT didn’t need no steenkin’ distributors anymore. Sorry, guys, deal’s off.

So we never sold any NeXT products, and we never used any either. Well, except the ones that later became part the MacOS. All I had left to show for that week I spent at NeXT was this little story.

But hell, if Intraware had to get shafted so that the rest of the world could enjoy the fruits of Steve Jobs’ labors at Apple over the following fifteen years, it was worth it. I’d happily offer up that sacrifice all over again. Rest in peace, Mr. Jobs. You were an inspiration.

Nice shoes
by Ken Arneson
2011-10-05 16:01

This weekend, Joe Posnanski posted a syrupy sweet story about how his daughters just love to compliment strangers.

Here were all these strangers wearing nice clothes; she was in heaven. I love your dress. Your earrings are beautiful. Your shoes are nice. Of course, everyone then returned the compliment, not realizing that this was like trying to trade jabs with Ali, and she would come back with a follow-up compliment and another — you’re pretty, you’re handsome, you have nice hair, I love your glasses, your teeth are so white, on and on, infinity.

Good for Joe. As a father of three children myself, I instinctively want the life stories of my kids to be filled with nice and sweet and beautiful and magical things, too.

And it’s not just dads who feel this way. Last week, I had this sugary exchange on Twitter with Amanda McCarthy, wife of Oakland A’s pitcher Brandon McCarthy:

@Mrs_McCarthy32  Amanda McCarthy
I will never be too old for a pb&j with apple slices.
@kenarneson  Ken Arneson
@Mrs_McCarthy32 My four-year-old daughter would like to eat at your restaurant.
@Mrs_McCarthy32  Amanda McCarthy
@kenarneson my apples are always served with caramel! I am a kids dream!!

And isn’t that a lovely thought?

Don’t we all want a world where a child’s natural gifts are appreciated and developed to their maximum potential? Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we had a world where everyone can have all the peanut butter and jelly sandwiches they want?

* * *

But somewhere in the back of my mind is a voice telling me to be careful of such sweet desires. I guess I worry that a society that desires sweetness and purity will treat violations of purity with, well, a puritanical harshness.

The flip side of saying that if you’re good and sweet and pure and innocent, you can have all the pb&j you desire, is this: if you’re not pure, if you’re tempted to check out a dangerous hole and fall in as a result, then you’re on your own. Nobody’s going to be bringing you any ladders to get yourself out.

The line between innocence and guilt in a puritanical culture is very very thin. It becomes difficult to distinguish between genuine innocence and a fake innocence for appearances. For the genuinely pure, one minute you’re a cute, sweet, precocious kid who loves to give compliments to strangers, and the next…

* * *

This story is about one month old.

I drive to the Home Depot on the border between West Oakland and Emeryville to buy some mortar for a brick wall that I’m repairing. I get out of my car and start looking across the sea of parked cars for one of those flatbed shopping cart to put the bags of mortar on. I spy one a couple aisles over, and head for it. As I get there and grab the cart, I hear a voice behind me.

“Hey, man, I like those shoes!”

I turn around and see an African-American man, maybe about 50 years old, standing beside me. He’s a small guy, skinny, maybe 5’7″ and 150 lbs dripping wet.

“Wow, is that leather?” He bends down and touches my shoes. I’m wearing some casual loafers, nothing fancy, but they do have a strip of brown that at least looks like leather. I have no idea if the leather is real or fake, but I can’t really think about that, because, well, there’s a guy touching my feet.

“Mmm, hmm!” he says enthusiastically, as he stands back up. “Those are nice. Where can I get me some of those?”

“I got them online,” I say. “They’re called Keens. If you Google ‘Keen shoes’ you can find them.”

He is smiling at me. His smile has gaps, he is missing some teeth. At that moment, two things occur to me: (1) a guy with dental problems probably doesn’t spend a lot of time online, and (2) even though this conversation is really bizarre, I can’t help but like the guy.

I start pushing the cart towards the store entrance. He walks with me. He says, “Say, listen, man, I just got out of Santa Rita. You know what that is?”

“Yes,” I say. Santa Rita is the Alameda County prison.

“Ha!” he says. “I bet you’ve never been in there, have you?”

I chuckle. “No.”

He says, “I could use a little help. Could you spare a dollar so I could buy a taco for lunch?”

“Sure,” I say. I reach into my pocket and pull out my wallet. I look in and — crap. I don’t have a dollar bill. I don’t even have a five. So I pull out the smallest bill I have and say, “Here, here’s a ten.”

I close my wallet, put it in back my pocket. I look back up to tell him, “You have a good–“. But I don’t get the chance. He’s already gone, vanished back into the American wilderness.

The American Economy, in Half a Sentence
by Ken Arneson
2011-10-03 13:54

Sam Miller gets my nomination for Sentence Fragment of the Year, for this line in a hilarious piece of baseball satire:

Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts: … and that’s how I diced up Alfonso Soriano’s contract, bundled it with other toxic assets, and sold it to public employee pension funds.

I love how that line so concisely skewers both the left and right side of the political aisles for their roles in the current screwed up state of our economy.

…and it’s not even a full sentence!

* * *

I’m beginning to think that the future of politics will be like the future of warfare where people won’t fight people anymore; one side’s robots fights the other side’s robots, and whoever’s robot wins, wins.

In politics, each side hires sabermetricians, and the sabermetricians argue each other to the death before they proceed further. People in politics will have to know how to defeat a sabermetrician in an argument, otherwise they’ll suffer the fate of (oxymoron alert) poor Warren Buffett, running into a uppercut from Phil Birnbaum.

* * *

And speaking of baseball and pension funds, Moneyball author Michael Lewis has a new piece in Vanity Fair called “California and Bust.” In it, he interviews San Jose mayor Chuck Reed. I assume when Lewis met Reed they discussed San Jose’s attempt to woo the A’s, but nothing on that topic appeared in the article. The whole article made me pessimistic that any city anywhere in the country could afford to actually get a stadium built for the A’s, but heck, what do I know? Maybe that’s what’s taking Bud Selig so long to decide the A’s fate; it takes time to find a city that can dice up the stadium costs, bundle them with some toxic assets, and sell them back to Wall Street to complete the circle.

Innovation Pickiness
by Ken Arneson
2011-10-01 21:49

Neal Stephenson has written an essay called Innovation Starvation, about how we don’t seem to be able to get big stuff (like going to the moon) done anymore.

It was interesting, but from my perspective, it seemed off target, for a couple of reasons.

1. Is the premise true?

OK, so we’re not going to the moon, or Mars. But does that mean we’re not doing big things? To me, the web, Google, Facebook, Twitter, smartphones and such…those are all Big Things. They are all recent high-tech developments that have significantly changed the world we live in. But because they emerged from the wilderness of an unplanned economy instead of some Big Pre-Planned Project, they don’t count as Big Things? I don’t buy that.

2. Does competitive knowledge really reduce innovation?

Stephenson offers this scenario:

Most people who work in corporations or academia have witnessed something like the following: A number of engineers are sitting together in a room, bouncing ideas off each other. Out of the discussion emerges a new concept that seems promising. Then some laptop-wielding person in the corner, having performed a quick Google search, announces that this “new” idea is, in fact, an old one—or at least vaguely similar—and has already been tried.

I have indeed witnessed something like that. What I haven’t witnessed is the existence of patents or competitors stopping very many people from moving forward on an idea. Patents can be worked around. Competitors don’t matter if you have access to a market that you think you can exploit first, by leveraging existing relationships with customers or vendors that you already work with. Case in point: the 100 gazillion Groupon clones out there.

So I would disagree that information from the Internet is stifling innovation. On the other hand, I would argue that the success of the Internet is causing certain kinds of innovation to be preferred over others. Innovators these days love the idea of companies like Google and Facebook and Twitter because if a company like that hits it big, they can create gargantuan results with very little capital. Just hire a handful of programmers and: Kaplowie!  Riches galore.

Yes, I’ve sat around tables and thrown around ideas. And every time I’ve thrown around a business idea that involved human beings interacting with other human beings, instead of computers interacting with computers, I’ve been politely ignored. Because there’s no Kaplowie!  when humans are involved. That takes hard work, and who wants to get rich doing hard work, when you could get rich with all this low-hanging Kaplowie!  fruit that still seems to be hanging around to be plucked?

So I don’t think that we’re being starved of innovation so much as we’re experiencing a temporary kind of pickiness. But when things (like innovation investment) cluster in one place, it creates holes in another. Somewhere out there in the business world, there’s a Billy Beane waiting to exploit the gaps in the business ecosystem that are being created by current investment preferences.

This is Ken Arneson's blog about baseball, brains, art, science, technology, philosophy, poetry, politics and whatever else Ken Arneson feels like writing about
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