Category Archives: Sports

Eavesdropping

For us Oakland A’s fans, this year has been a dream. Very little was expected of the team this year after GM Billy Beane traded three of the A’s best players over the winter. When the A’s lost nine games in a row in May, we fans resigned ourselves to our low expectations having been met, another disappointment in growing series of disappointments. The A’s haven’t had a winning season in five years. But in June, some magic wand was waved over the team, and suddenly everything changed. With just three weeks left in the season, the A’s are now in the lead for a wild card playoff spot, and just three games behind Texas for the best record in the American League.

I headed out to the Oakland Coliseum on Saturday to soak up some of the magic vibes. The A’s were playing the Baltimore Orioles, in the midst of a dream season of their own. The Orioles haven’t had a winning season in 15 years, but here they were tied with the hated New York Yankees atop the American League East division.

The Orioles scored single runs in the second and third innings to take a 2-0 lead. This subdued the crowd a bit, and the focus of the people around me started drifting away from the game.

This is not the same boy as in the story

In front of me sat a young boy about 8 years old. To his left was another 8-ish boy, perhaps a friend, and the friend’s younger sister and father. They boy’s mother had made a pre-game appearance and scolded him very sternly to sit nicely and behave properly while seated here with this other family, and then had left. In the top of the third one of the kids pulled out a hand-held video game console of some sort, and they began to play. The three heads all gathered around the tiny screen.

Behind me sat a row of older men and women, all probably in their fifties or sixties. One of them was wearing a Cal shirt, so I introduced myself as a fellow Cal grad, and chatted him up about his experiences at UC Berkeley. He said he graduated in ’73, which put him there at the peak of the whole protest era. He remembered walking through Sproul Plaza the day after one of these protests, the condensation from the previous day’s tear gas still dripping from the trees, stinging his eyes.

Another lady in that row then launched into a lengthy monologue. I can’t remember it word for word, but I’ll paraphrase it thusly:

My oldest daughter lives in Riverside. It’s a great place to live. It’s an hour to Disneyland on the 91, or and an hour to downtown LA on the 10 if the traffic isn’t too bad. And San Diego’s easy to get to, about an hour and a half down the 15, and you can also get to Palm Springs in an hour heading east on Highway 60. It’s fantastic.

We took a trip down there a couple weeks ago. I had surgery for uterine cancer two months ago, so the kids had been all cooped up, and you know, they needed to get out. So we headed down 101 first to Soledad, where another of my daughters lives. Her husband works in the prison there. Then we continued down 101 to Paso Robles where our oldest son lives, and then on 101 through LA to the 10 and then down the 215 to Riverside.

The day before, I had blogged about how it was an error to mistake data for function. Here was a remarkable example of avoiding that error. You’d think uterine cancer would consume a person’s life — that fighting it would become the primary function of her life. Yet this lady somehow managed to make cancer sound like merely a data point on a highway map of Southern California.

The word “cancer” has struck me with more emotional impact lately, as my brother-in-law Jim died of melanoma in August. Up until then, I had been fortunate enough not to really know anyone who had been struck down by cancer. But now having seen someone close to me suffer from it, it’s far less of an abstraction to me now, hearing about all the chemotherapy and radiation and medicines, hoping that one or some combination of these will miraculously work. Having that lady mention Paso Robles struck me double, because about six weeks before he died, Jim took a trip from his Arizona home here to the Bay Area. We watched several Euro 2012 soccer games together. Then we said goodbye, and he and his wife headed down to Paso Robles to do some wine tasting. It was the last time I saw him. There were no miracles.

The somber mood of myself and the crowd quickly reversed itself in the bottom of the third. Stephen Drew led off with a solo homer to cut the Orioles’ lead to 2-1. The boy in front of me cheered enthusiastically, jumping up and down with his arms high above his head. The crowd seemed to sense some magic happening, as the chants of “Let’s Go Oakland” grew louder and more intense as the A’s got one hit after another. When Yoenis Cespedes hit a bullet single up the middle to give the A’s a 3-2 lead, the crowd went crazy.

Chris Carter followed with a two-run double down the right field line. Cespedes read the ball perfectly off the bat, and took off running. As that powerful body flew around the bases, so fast that he nearly caught up with Josh Reddick one base ahead of him, I couldn’t help but marvel at what an amazing athlete he is. His swing and his running stride have such an lovely combination of power and grace and speed, that I couldn’t help but say to myself, “Yoenis Cespedes is a beautiful human being.” Not in the sense of him being a nice guy, since I know nearly nothing of his character, but of his body. His strong yet fluid manner seems almost the Platonic ideal of human motion.

The inning ended with the A’s ahead, 5-2, and the crowd abuzz in an intoxicating mix of joy and disbelief. As it turned out, that was all the scoring there would be. The game then marched ahead straightforwardly, without much more excitement.

As the outs piled up, the kids in front of me started getting a little bored and restless again. At one point in the 6th inning, the boy picked up some empty peanut shells and tossed them into the air.

* * *

At the exact moment the peanut shells left his fingers, his mother returned, carrying two boxes of pizza.

“What are you doing?” she shouted at him, as the peanut shells fluttered harmlessly to the floor. “I told you very specifically that you needed to behave! What the fuck is wrong with you?”

What’s wrong with him, I thought, is probably that he has a mother who is the type of person who says “fuck” to her kids.

She handed the pizza boxes to the father of the other kids, and then grabbed the boy by the wrist. “Come with me,” she said sternly. She pulled him behind her, and pulled him up the stairs onto the concourse.

Two minutes later, they returned. “Now sit down right there, don’t move, and eat your fucking pizza.”

* * *

The next morning, Craig Calcaterra blogged about a letter from the poet Ted Hughes to his son, in which Hughes explains that our true selves are childlike and innocent, but we learn through the crush of circumstances in our lives to build a shell around that inner child, to protect it from pain. It is that armor that we adults use to interface with the world.

But since that artificial secondary self took over the control of life around the age of eight, and relegated the real, vulnerable, supersensitive, suffering self back into its nursery, it has lacked training, this inner prisoner. And so, wherever life takes it by surprise, and suddenly the artificial self of adaptations proves inadequate, and fails to ward off the invasion of raw experience, that inner self is thrown into the front line — unprepared, with all its childhood terrors round its ears. And yet that’s the moment it wants. That’s where it comes alive — even if only to be overwhelmed and bewildered and hurt.

As I read this, I thought about that mom from the day before. Where does her anger come from? Was she so overwhelmed and bewildered and hurt in her childhood that the only thing she knows is to make her own offspring feel overwhelmed and bewildered and hurt, too?

* * *

The boy sat. His shoulders slumped. His head bowed. His face lost all its joy.

He took a slice of his fucking pizza. With each bite, a hard shell began to form around his soul.

* * *

I was reminded of this new anti-alcohol video from Finland:

My dad had an alcohol problem when I was growing up. I was fortunate in that when my dad got drunk, he didn’t become abusive. He merely became the world’s worst standup comic. Still, as a child, you’re bewildered by it. Embarrassed. You try to ignore it, forget about it, put a shell around yourself and block it out.

Eventually, my mom had enough and divorced my dad. My dad remarried. Eventually, about the time I was a senior in high school, the drinking got to the point where he couldn’t eat if he drank. The food would just get stuck in his throat. I could see that same bewilderment, that same embarrassment in his new wife’s eyes, that I knew so well.

One day, after another one of these episodes, I found him alone in the basement. I walked up to him and said, “You’re going have to choose. Which do you love more, your bottle or your wife?” Up until that day, I had never said a word about his drinking, ever, in my life. He looked at me, speechless. I turned around and walked out.

I walked into that basement a hurt child, and walked out a man. I decided that this cycle of pain was going to end, right there, with me. Any family I had was not going to have to deal with this same kind of crap I had to deal with. That’s why I don’t drink alcohol.

Shortly after our confrontation, my dad quit drinking, cold turkey. Never drank another drop of alcohol the rest of his life. Our relationship got so much better after that. I am so grateful.

I’m sure I’ve missed out on a lot of socializing by not drinking. You don’t invite the guy who doesn’t drink out for beers with the guys. Fortunately, I’m an introvert, so missing out on socializing doesn’t really bother me at all. Pity the poor extrovert who has to make the same decision.

* * *

The boy now in submission, her damage done, the hurricane of a mother departed the scene as abruptly as she arrived. She was not seen again for the rest of the game.

* * *

The outs pile up, three outs here, three outs there, and eventually, the game is over. But that boy and I, we had that one moment together, didn’t we, that raw, magical, miraculous moment where Chris Carter hit that double down the right field line, where Yoenis Cespedes flew around the bases and almost caught up to Josh Reddick, and we broke through our shells and forgot our pain and fears and we marveled and cheered and threw our arms up in the air, each of us free as an uninhibited child.

MLB’s Customer Alignment Problem

As Apple announces the iPhone 5 today, I want to make a confession. It’s a bit embarrassing for someone like me who has spent his career in high tech, but here goes: I don’t have a cell phone.

At first, my reason was this: I lived and worked and played on a very flat island with no tall buildings, so coverage was awful. I had reception in only one room of my house, not at all in my office three blocks away, and spotty reception where I play indoor soccer. I spent 95% of my time at those three places, and I wouldn’t be getting what I was paying for. When I went out somewhere that coverage was better, I’d borrow my wife’s cheap pay-as-you-go phone, and my needs were met.

The cell phone service providers made a mistake. They gave me an opportunity to learn that I could live without them.

* * *

This is the image of an industry suddenly collapsing.

Why did the newspaper industry suddenly collapse like that? Because it got hit from two sides at once by the Internet. Craigslist and eBay took away their classified ad business, while blogs and online news sources directed their readership elsewhere for the same information. Newspapers might have been able to handle a one-front battle, but a two-front battle was catastrophic.

But there’s something else that hurt the newspaper industry: the indirect nature of their feedback loop. It’s a business model that provides a service to one group of people, while taking money from a different group of people.

The best kind of feedback for a business is revenue. If your revenue increases or decreases, you’re going to notice. But when the users of your product aren’t providing the revenue for your product, your feedback loop has a natural delay to it. The people who give you revenue might lead you to innovate (or not) in a direction your users won’t like, and you won’t notice that you’re making a mistake because it takes a while for that problem to reach your bottom line. So you react too slowly, and that slowness can be fatal.

* * *

In fact, all businesses that rely on advertising have this problem. Their users want one thing, and the revenue generators want something different. So if a company like Facebook starts alienating their customers in an effort to maximize their revenues, they may find themselves not just the subject of an Onion parody, but ruining their business before the bottom line has time to let them know they’ve made a mistake.

* * *

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos is a very smart man. He understands this problem. He knows that the key to keeping ahead of the rapid pace of high-tech change is to master the feedback loop between what his customers want next, and what his company makes next. That’s why in his Kindle press conference last week, he laid out this doctrine:

Think about the major players in high tech right now: Microsoft, Google, Facebook, Twitter, Amazon, Apple. Which of these has their revenues most directly aligned with what their customers want? It’s probably in roughly this order:
Amazon/Apple
(gap)
Microsoft
(gap)
Google
(gap)
Twitter/Facebook.

Amazon and Apple sell most of their products directly to their users. When their customers buy something they make, they know the product is good; when they don’t buy, they know immediately they made a mistake. Microsoft doesn’t sell directly to users– they sell to distributors and OEM manufacturers, so there’s noise injected into their feedback loop, and they land just a little lower on this spectrum. Google sells ads, but their ads are often directly related to what the customer wants; if someone is searching for jeans, they get an ad for jeans. Sometimes the ad happens to be exactly what the user wants.

Twitter and Facebook, on the other hand, need to inject their ads into an environment where the users wouldn’t really want to see ads at all if they didn’t have to. This leads to customer dissatisfaction, expressed not just in the Onion parody above, but also in a real-life alternative social networks like App.net who are trying to sell directly to users.

* * *

My favorite product of all is probably Major League Baseball. I consume a lot of Major League Baseball. But MLB is going in a very tempting, but dangerous direction. When MLB began, a vast majority of their revenues came from the product their users consume. They sold tickets to the games, and that’s how they made their money. But more and more of MLB’s revenues are coming from indirect sources.

At a local level, if you’re a team like the Oakland A’s, who play in an antiquated stadium that doesn’t generate a lot of revenues, a big proportion of your money comes from TV and league-wide revenue sharing. So you can do things over a number of years, like threaten to move away and trade away favorite players, that damage your brand but aren’t directly noticeable in your bottom line. Ownership may not even know how much their fans hate them, because their loyalty to their local team keeps them around despite their dissatisfaction. But eventually, there may be a straw that breaks the camel’s back. Los Angeles Dodger fans may have hated owner Frank McCourt for years, but it was only in the last year of his tenure that the dissatisfaction actually became truly noticeable in attendance figures. The feedback loop in baseball has quite a long delay.

In recent years, baseball’s misalignment problem has accelerated almost exponentially. Like the newspaper industry, the source of this change is new technology. Unlike the newspaper industry, however, the change has caused MLB’s revenues to increase, not decrease, dramatically.

The reason for this change is twofold:

  1. The DVR allows people to skip through commercials on TV. This makes live events, which people can’t skip through, a much more valuable delivery mechanism for advertising.
  2. Internet video allows people to watch television shows and movies without subscribing to any sort of cable or satellite TV service. Cable/satellite may or may not be shedding customers at the moment, but it’s certainly not growing much, and without sports would almost certainly be shrinking. This makes sports networks extremely important to cable and satellite providers: without them, most people will eventually learn to do without cable TV, and just get all their content from the Internet.

So this sets up a strange mismatch between what MLB customers want, and what their revenues tell them to do. MLB fans want to watch their favorite team on whatever device they prefer. But MLB’s revenue stream is depending more and more on their customers NOT being able to watch their team over the internet, forcing them to watch on TV.

MLB’s revenues come less and less directly from baseball fans, and more and more indirectly, from TV networks and cable/satellite providers.

This causes MLB to lose control over the customer experience of their fans. If a TV network and a cable provider can’t come to an agreement on price, for example, Padres fans can go a whole season without being able to watch their team on TV. And if not all TV networks are available on all cable/satellite services, fans have to scramble around to watch the games they want.

Or, fans just go without. And what does that do? It ends up teaching them that they can learn to live without your product. That too, may not be noticeable right away, until it snowballs too late for you to do anything about it.

* * *

But you can’t really blame MLB, can you? If you’re the Los Angeles Angels and someone wants to pay you $3 billion dollars over 20 years for your TV rights, do you turn that down? No, probably not.

In expectation of an even larger payday than the Angels got, the Los Angeles Dodgers recently sold for $2.1 billion. Given that the estimated value of the Dodgers just a year before that was about $800 million, over 60% of the value of the franchise lies in that regional TV deal.

But think about that for a second. The new owners of the Dodgers spent $1.3 billion dollars on a business model that:
(a) depends almost entirely on another industry that isn’t growing, and would be in steep, steep decline without your industry. If either one of your industries catches a cold, the other one will necessarily start sneezing.
(b) puts your industry in a complete misalignment with your customers, requiring you to prevent your customers from consuming your product in the way they’d prefer, distancing yourself from the revenue feedback loop, making it more difficult to know if you’re doing any long-term damage to your product, and where you need to improve.

The new Dodger owners obviously didn’t care. Maybe they didn’t think about these risks. Or maybe they did, and thought the math worked anyway. Or maybe they considered it, but they thought they could sell the team to someone else before the whole house of cards fell in, like an investor in a Ponzi scheme who doesn’t think he’ll be the one who ends up being the victim.

Who knows. But me, I wouldn’t touch a business model like that with a 10-mile pole.

The Arrival

Only when the future arrives does the past become clear.

* * *

One hundred years ago, on April 10, 1912, the RMS Titanic left Southampton, England on a voyage for New York City. It never arrived.

Ten days later, baseball opened its newest ballpark, Fenway Park. At the time, Fenway Park had no history. No Babe Ruth, no Ted Williams, no Yaz, no Fisk, no Buckner, no Dave Roberts, no bloody sock. It was a blank slate of exciting possibilities.

* * *

In 1980, I was living in Sweden with my mom. I was 14. My dad was living in California. For the summer, my mom let me go on a plane voyage, by myself, across the Atlantic Ocean, to spend the summer with my dad. I managed to change planes at JFK Airport in New York, and not get lost. It was exciting. I felt like an adult.

* * *

On April 11, 2001, I attended a baseball game at the Oakland Coliseum between the Oakland A’s and the Seattle Mariners. It was not technically the first game of the season for the A’s, or the Mariners, or the Mariners’ new imported outfielder, Ichiro Suzuki. But in my memory, it may just as well have been. Because that was the game where Ichiro arrived.

One play — one — made us all just stop, gasp, and say, “Whoa. Whoa! This guy is something special.”

I don’t have a photographic memory, but for that one play, Ichiro throwing a laser beam from right field to third base to throw out Terrence Long, my brain has decided to make an exception.

I can still see it quite clearly in my mind. Although now, after Ichiro’s long career, it means something quite different to me than it did back then.

* * *

Yesterday afternoon, April 6, 2012, my teenage daughter decided to go out with some friends. They didn’t have any specific plans.

At some point, she and her friends decided to go see the movie Titanic 3D.

At no point, did it occur to her to contact her parents and let her know of this decision.

At 8pm, we sent her a text message. Where are you? “Oh, at the theater. The movie’s about to start.”

* * *

At no point when I was travelling across the Atlantic Ocean by myself as a 14-year-old did it occur to me to think how my mom must have felt while she was waiting for me to call and let her know I had arrived.

The whole time, she probably feared the worst. She probably feared the Titanic.

* * *

Last night, April 6, 2012, there was yet another ballgame at the Oakland Coliseum between the Oakland A’s and Seattle Mariners. It was not the first game of the season for M’s and their old imported outfielder, Ichiro Suzuki, or the A’s and their new imported outfielder, Yoenis Cespedes.

But again, it may just as well have been. For there was, again, an arrival.

Gasp. Yoenis Cespedes absolutely destroyed that baseball.

* * *

When my daughter finally arrived home, at nearly midnight, we talked.

We did not talk about Yoenis Cespedes. We did not talk about how my mom felt when I flew across the Atlantic by myself three decades ago.

I said words that will probably not be fully understood for three decades hence, when it is my daughter’s turn to say them, to her own offspring.

* * *

The world will little note, nor long remember, who won the two ballgames which marked the arrivals of Ichiro and Cespedes. But those games will span generations. Fans may not now fully appreciate what Yoenis Cespedes did last night, or what it really means. But 11 years from now, as it did 11 years ago, some new star will burst forth, and we’ll finally realize what this special night was really all about.

Giants Invalidate Their Territorial Rights Argument

Yesterday, the San Francisco Giants opened a Giants Dugout Store in the suburb of Walnut Creek. Why is this worthy of note? Well, take a look at where this store is:


View Larger Map

That’s deep in the center of Contra Costa County, one of only two counties that are, by MLB definition, the territory of the Oakland Athletics.

That in itself wouldn’t be such a big deal if the Giants were not also making the argument that letting the Oakland A’s move to San Jose is a violation of their territorial rights to Santa Clara County, and should therefore not be allowed.

This is not the first time the Giants have stepped on the A’s turf. When the Giants won the World Series in 2010, they paraded their trophy all around the Bay Area, including two cities in Contra Costa County: Walnut Creek and Richmond. But their parading did seem to carefully avoid any city in Alameda County.

Meanwhile, though, the Giants are still resisting the A’s move into “their” territory of San Jose:

  • They have created and funded a “grassroots” movement against the A’s stadium in San Jose, which just on Friday filed a lawsuit against the San Jose ballpark.
     
  • For similar reasons, they have enticed their own ballpark sponsor, AT&T, who happens to own a parcel of land needed to complete the San Jose ballpark, to flat out refuse to sell that parcel at any reasonable price, thereby forcing the city to engage in a complicated eminent domain procedure to get the parcel secured.
     
  • They have purchased San Jose’s minor league team, thereby doubling up on the “territorial rights” argument, and ensuring that a negotiation over compensation must be completed before the A’s can build their ballpark.
     

So what gives? Why are the Giants still behaving like territorial rights are sacred in “their” Santa Clara County, but like they don’t matter in the A’s Contra Costa County?

Perhaps the Giants Dugout Stores are a separate corporation from the Giants themselves, and are therefore not covered by the territorial rights, but if so, that’s just a legalese cover story. These two entities are tied at the hip. You know the Giants could have just said the word, and there would not have been a Giants Dugout Store in Walnut Creek.

So what’s really going on here? I can think of two explanations that make some sense. Either:

  1. A swap of Contra Costa County for Santa Clara County between the Giants and the A’s is a fait accomplit. There are t’s to cross and i’s to dot, but that’s eventually going to happen. Any resistance the Giants are showing now towards the A’s moving to San Jose is all about leverage: how much money will the Giants get in compensation for the loss of their territorial rights?

    One argument for this interpretation is that the A’s themselves haven’t complained one peep about this store, and they didn’t complain about the trophy parading, either. If there was no such tacit agreement, and I were the A’s, I’d be raising holy hell about the existence of this store.
     
    Or:

  2. The Giants have launched a full-out war against the A’s. They intend to do everything they can to force the A’s out of the Bay Area while they have the chance.

    In this scenario, the Walnut Creek Dugout Store is a beachhead to push the A’s out of town. They attack the A’s from the west as usual, and from this Dugout Store, they launch a propaganda campaign to weaken the A’s support from the east. And from the south, they employ every possible legal maneuver and manipulate every single sock puppet they can to prevent the A’s from moving to San Jose.

    The argument for this scenario is that this is the scenario that produces the best possible financial outcome for the Giants: the A’s leaving the Bay Area. The A’s would be stuck in the Coliseum with dwindling fan support and nowhere else to go but to some other metro area that can build a stadium for them. For the Giants shareholders to maximize the return on their investment, this is the optimal strategy to take.

In either case, though, the territorial rights argument is now over.

In the first scenario, it’s over because the Giants have given up. The Walnut Creek store is about launching a new marketing campaign to win over the new set of fans that they ‘acquire’ in exchange for the A’s moving to San Jose.

In the second scenario, then the Giants Dugout Store in Walnut Creek invalidates the whole “we just want the A’s to respect our territorial rights” argument as just bullshit. The Giants don’t really believe in, care about, or respect territorial rights at all. Instead, the Giants actually only care about pushing the A’s out of the Bay Area entirely. They want the whole Bay Area market to themselves, so they can make a lot more money when they eventually sell the team.

It was former A’s owner Walter Haas who let the Giants have Santa Clara County in the first place, when the Giants were trying to build a stadium down there themselves. He did that because Haas always had the bigger picture in mind: both sports and businesses do not just exist for profits alone; they are an essential part of the fabric of our communities. Anyone who walks on the UC Berkeley campus and sees the Haas name all over the place knows he believed that deeply. Capitalism works best when capitalists understand that their businesses aren’t islands unto themselves. When corporations live for profits and profits alone, you end up with people occupying Wall Street.

I’m hoping that Scenario #1 is closer to the truth than Scenario #2. It would be extremely disappointing if it wasn’t. Giants CEO Larry Baer was actually once a board member of one of the companies I helped found, and I had always respected him before. I’d like to think he, as a former Cal grad, is capable of a Haas-like vision that extends beyond just the corrosive idea that ‘maximizing shareholder value’ is the sole purpose of a corporation.

Normally, I’d just give the benefit of the doubt to the Giants, assume innocence until proven guilty, and that Scenario #1 is likely the truth. But doing so in this case requires me to believe facts not in evidence. It requires me to interpret the A’s silence as acceptance. The only facts that have been presented publicly involve the Giants aggressively moving against the A’s desires and interest, and the A’s just shutting up and taking it. I have no idea what is going on behind the scenes. So therefore, I don’t know quite how to interpret this.

The arguments are done, and the jury has the case. Is the Giants move into Walnut Creek a benign marketing play, or an act of malign selfish corporate greed? We anxiously await the verdict.

Notes on Thinking, Fast and Slow: The Hot Hand

Chapter 10 of Daniel Kahneman’s book Thinking Fast and Slow covers familiar ground to anyone who follows sports statistics. The chapter addresses two of the major mistakes humans make when dealing with statistical informtion: ignoring small sample sizes, and seeking out patterns in outcomes that are actually random chance.

At one point, he discusses the “hot hand theory”, where it is shown that basketball players do not actually have streaks where they get hot; the streaks we observe are pretty much what we would statistically expect from a random distribution of shots, given a player’s overall shooting percentage.

That, too, is familiar territory to people who follow sports statistics. But recently, I came across something new (to me, anyway) about this topic. What has been missing from the discussion is an explanation about why the outcomes of human performance is distributed randomly.

Suppose you had a very precise pitching machine. It throws the exact same pitch to the exact same location every single time. And yet, a human batter facing that machine and those pitches would not hit the ball with the exact same result each time. Why not?

You might just chalk it up to, “we’re humans, not robots.” But that’s not really an adequate explanation, is it? Which part of human mechanics introduces the randomness in our performance?

A good explanation for the randomness in our performance can be found in this Ted Talk by Daniel Wolpert. At about five minutes in, he explains that the chemical transmission of nerve signals from our brains to our muscles and back is extremely noisy.

When we use a machine metaphor to describe our bodies, we make assumptions about our systems that aren’t accurate. The signals that our bodies send aren’t nearly as clean as the electronic signals our computers send to its peripheral devices.

Think about someone you know who is hard of hearing. Or about having a conversation in a noisy restaurant. What happens in those conversations? Often you can’t hear every word, so you have to make a guess based on context as to what was actually said. You are forced to fill in the gaps with guesses based on past experience. And sometimes those guesses are wrong.

And because the noise disrupts the signals randomly, our guesses are wrong randomly. If we could somehow replace our nerves with copper wires or fiber optic cables, though, our performance failures would be reduced significantly.

Notes on Thinking, Fast and Slow: Chili Davis

I got a Kindle today, and one of the first books I bought was Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman. I don’t think I’ve ever looked forward to a book more than this one, a summary of how the human mind works by the leading scientist in the field. I plan on making some notes on this book as I read it.

Here’s the first one. Yesterday, I wrote this on Twitter, about the Oakland A’s hiring of Chili Davis as their new hitting coach.

I approve of Chili Davis as A’s hitting coach, since I liked him as a player & I have no other way to know what makes a good hitting coach.

Right in the very first chapter, Kahneman discusses this kind of mental error. He describes an executive who decides to buy Ford stock because he likes Ford cars. He doesn’t take into consideration at all whether the stock is currently priced correctly.

The executive’s decision would today be described as an example of the affect heuristic, where judgments and decisions are guided directly by feelings of liking and disliking, with little deliberation or reasoning.

Kahneman goes on to explain that when we lack the skills to answer a question, what we often do is answer a different question instead. I don’t have the skills or knowledge to know whether Chili Davis would be a good hitting coach. But I know the answers to some other similar questions. Was Chili Davis a good hitter? Yes! Was Chili Davis a likable player? Yes!

So my mind naturally decides to substitute the answers for the questions I can answer for the question I can’t. And the odd thing is, we often don’t notice ourselves that we’ve performed this question substitution, so we often feel very confident in our answers, without just cause.

I feel very happy about the choice of Chili Davis as the A’s hitting coach. I feel quite confident that he will do a great job. Logically, I know that this is just a kind of cognitive illusion. But knowing how the trick works doesn’t seem to make the trick stop working. I still feel happy and confident about Chili Davis as the A’s hitting coach.

On Evil

There are few characters in all of literature more evil than Shakespeare’s Richard III. In the very first scene of the play, Richard comes right out and declares that he is a villain. He then proceeds to spend the rest of the play alternating between describing the evil he’s about to do, and doing that evil. He cares nothing about the damage he does to the people around him. He murders anyone who gets in his way: his enemies, his friends, his closest ally, his brother, his wife, and his two nephews–both children. He’s a monster.

Yet he’s also intelligent and, in the hands of a good actor, both charming and funny. I recently saw Kevin Spacey perform in Richard III at the Curran Theater in San Francisco. At times, Spacey’s impeccable comic timing had the audience in stitches.

It was both an amazing and a disturbing performance. The play would have no life, no value, if it were just a laundry list of evil actions. But, thanks to the genius of Shakespeare, and the talents of an accomplished actor, we find ourselves entertained by evil, impressed by evil, charmed by evil, laughing at evil, laughing with evil. We, the audience, can’t help ourselves.

What does this say about us? Does our ability to enjoy evil condemn us as evil ourselves?

* * *

What, dost thou scorn me for my gentle counsel?
And soothe the devil that I warn thee from?
O, but remember this another day,
When he shall split thy very heart with sorrow,
And say poor Margaret was a prophetess!

–Queen Margaret, in Shakespeare’s Richard III, Act I, Scene III

Only one character in Richard III recognizes from the start that Richard is a bad man: old Queen Margaret. She had suffered this kind of treachery before. But when she tells people about the evil before them, nobody chooses to consider she might be right. They dismiss her as just a crazy old lady. Nobody really wants to confront such an uncomfortable idea. And so an evil man continues to roam free, to do more damage to people’s lives.

Sound familiar?

* * *

“You manage things. You lead people. We went overboard on management and forgot about leadership.”

Grace Hopper

Grace Hopper was one of the pioneers of computer science. She is credited with coining the computer terms “bugs” and “debugging”. One of the bugs she felt had crept into late 20th century society was that our educational institutions stopped teaching leadership, and started teaching management instead.

If you think about her quote in relation to the Penn State scandal, you can easily see how this thing went wrong. When organizations get large, when millions and billions of dollars are at stake, human beings become abstractions. People aren’t people anymore. They’re assets, or resources, or targets, or obligations, or liabilities, or potential lawsuits.

This thing at Penn State went horribly wrong because this thing became a thing. It became something to manage, an issue to deal with. And every time the buck got passed along the management chain, the issue became less person-like and more thing-like.

Penn State failed because they had management, not leadership. They had managers, not leaders. They failed because they didn’t have anyone who could tell the difference.

* * *

It’s very de-motivating to work in an environment where you can see all the brutal facts, but those in power are not confronting those brutal facts. And you want them confronted because you want to be part of something great.

Jim Collins, on “How the Mighty Fall”, his study of how great enterprises unravel.

Evil is repulsive. So it’s natural to want to repel it, to look away, to ignore it, to hope it’s not really there, to hope it will go away. Shakespeare recognized that human behavior 500 years ago. We’re still just as human today.

But the only way to defeat evil is to not repel it too quickly. If you dismiss or rationalize away the brutal facts you face, you only displace those brutal facts temporarily. They’re still there, lurking in the background.

Wise leaders must have the courage to let that evil in, just long enough to examine it, to understand it. That’s dangerous. You don’t want to be seduced by the temptations of evil yourself, and you don’t want to become a victim of it. But it must be done. It is wise, not evil, to want to study the likes of Richard III. It is wise to try to take lessons from the failures at Penn State. Otherwise, there will certainly be more victims whose hearts are split with sorrow.

Moneybase: Moving the A’s (Rough Draft Version, part 1)

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.

The American Economy, in Half a Sentence

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.

A Timeline of Holes

  • Image from NASA
    13,700,000,000 years ago

    The universe explodes into existence out of one small, dense dot.

    Why isn't the universe perfectly symmetrical? Why can't we look out onto the other side of the big bang, and see our mirror image?

    The universe is uneven. Unbalanced. Unsmooth. It is full of clumps and lumps.

    We are like particles of dust, swirling through an unstoppable, expanding sinkhole, as it carves itself out of some other earth.

    image credit: NASA via government work copyright
  • Solar nebula
    4,568,000,000 years ago

    A white dwarf star in the Milky Way Galaxy explodes as a supernova. The shock wave hits a nearby nebula of gas, causing a clustering of material which condenses into our Solar System.

    Nothing happens in smoothness. In an undisturbed cloud, there is no conflict, no creativity.

    Action requires a hole. A hole creates an edge, and the edge is where things meet to become other things.

    image credit: NASA via government work copyright
  • moon formation
    4,480,000,000 years ago

    A small planet collides with a young Earth, destroying the small planet and gouging a giant hole in the earth. The leftover debris coalesces and becomes the moon.

    Every hole has a past, a life lived as something else.

    Every hole also creates a future. But that future is not for itself. A hole is nothing, but it is also an opportunity for something other than itself.

    image credit: NASA via government work copyright
  • 714,000,000 years ago

    In the marshlands of the planet Unbraikea in the Pinwheel Galaxy, a mantisoid species called "Allien" becomes the first sentient life form in the universe.

    An Allien named Jaramu Briwn trips into a bed of hexreeds. His oversized snout gets caught in one of the reed flowers. His embarrassment turns to joy when he discovers a beautiful symbiosis between the two species. 600 million years of co-evolved stability and peace follow.

    image credit: Arjen Stilklik and Gustavo Durán via creative commons license
  • 100,000,000 years ago

    An Allien named Bell Jymas begins to question the behavior of his society. "We've done things this way for 600 million years. Why? If nothing ever changes, what's the point?" he asks. Jymas is mostly ignored by his fellow Alliens.

    When we feel crowded, we seek to create holes. When we feel empty, we seek fulfillment. We yearn for an easy, soothing uniformity in our lives.

    It's a rare and remarkable event when an intelligent being wants to pokes holes in a fulfilling existence.

  • 65,000,000 years ago

    Back on Earth, a 6-mile wide asteroid crashes into the Yucatan Peninsula. The resulting impact hole sends so much debris into the atmosphere that all the dinosaurs died.

    The large hole in the ecosystem left by the death of the dinosaurs creates an opportunity for some small, mammalian survivors to move in and fill it.

  • 44,000,000 years ago

    An Allien named Bellu Bayna decides to test out Jymas' theories. He leaves the safety and comfort of his grassy reed nest, and ascends Mount Nervyny. For 40 days and 40 nights, he meditates, resisting the temptation to return to his old, easy life. Following his example, Alliens enter the most dynamic and creative era in their history.

    The leader of a movement usually accomplishes little but to point out the center of a hole. It's the first follower who is key, for this is the one who brings the shovel and starts digging.

    image credit: Giorgio via creative commons license
  • 25,000,000 years ago

    Nearly every ecosystem on Earth is colonized by mammals. But one group of mammalian monkeys discovers a remaining unexploited hole in their ecosystem. They leave the safety of the trees, and begin to regularly forage for food on the ground.

    This group of monkeys, called "Hominoids" or "Apes", lose their tails, and eventually evolve into several distinct genera: gibbons, orangutans, gorillas, chimpanzees, and humans.

  • 22,000,000 years ago

    Kan Yrnasin, a follower of Bellu Bayna's movement, composes an artwork expanding on Bayna's ideas, entitled "On Sockets". Of the work, fellow follower Mahmyttske says, "Well, the reednet is over, this work won. Thanks for playing everybody."

    "On Sockets" becomes generally regarded as the pinnacle of Allien civilization. Allien society soon thereafter begins a long descent into disunity, selfishness and ignorance, the combination of which makes them fail to understand the gravity of their impending disaster until it was too late to stop it.

  • 21,000,000 years ago

    A white dwarf star 20 light years from Unbraikea goes supernova. The resulting shock wave blows a hole in the atmosphere of Unbraikea, and all the Alliens perish.

    When Alliens realize they are doomed, their culture descends into a violent, nihilistic, destructive rage.

    A brave few try to overcome the desperately long and unfair odds. They broadcast their consciousness out into the expanse of the universe, hoping that someday, somewhere, it will find a recipient who can make their their existence matter.

  • 17,000,000 years ago

    The Colorado River begins carving out the Colorado Plateau in northern Arizona, creating the Grand Canyon.

    Is a hole an act of construction, or destruction? Does it matter whether a hole is intentional or not?

    Does it change our judgment of a thing if we know there's an artist behind it, skillfully and willfully causing it to happen?

    image credit: Ken Arneson
  • 50,000 years ago

    A rock about 50m wide slams into Arizona, forming Meteor Crater.

    Two large scars in the face of an otherwise flat, dry Arizona desert. One is considered among the most beautiful, defining features of the planet Earth; the other is thought of more as an unsightly blemish.

    What is the difference between a hole that is beautiful and one that is ugly?

  • 1,978 years ago

    Roman authorities kill Jesus Christ by nailing holes into a wooden cross through his hands and feet.

    Some holes go beyond mere ugliness. Some holes make us recoil in horror or disgust.

    The idea that God, from whose breath this holey universe originated, would Himself come and willingly participate in both the joys and the suffering of human life, is a great comfort to many.

    image credit: Mattias Grünewald
  • 1,000 years ago

    In order to avoid religious persecution for his scientific work, Ibn al-Haytham, a/k/a Alhazen, a Persian scientist working in Egypt, feigns madness. He is placed under house arrest for 10 years. During this time he begins writing his influential Book of Optics.

    Many, if not most, of the technologies which involve manipulating light passing through a hole were built atop the principles spelled out in Alhazen's work. A madman may not seem to be of any consequence. But telescopes, cameras, and eyeglasses certainly do.

    image credit: Wikipedia
  • 804 years ago

    The poet Rumi is born.

    "A craftsman pulled a reed from the reedbed,
    cut holes in it, and called it a human being.

    Since then, it's been wailing a tender agony
    of parting, never mentioning the skill
    that gave it life as a flute."

  • 1911

    One century ago, H. T. Hallowell, Sr., founder of Standard Pressed Steel Company, invents the hex key.

    Hallowell suffers the usual fate of pioneers, seeing someone else get famous for his work. During World War II, the hex key becomes more commonly known as the "Allen Wrench", a trademark of the Allen Manufacturing Company, a competitor of Standard Pressed Steel.

  • 1966

    Ken Arneson is born just a short distance from where the Beatles hold their final concert.

    Meanwhile, 4,000 holes mysteriously appear in Blackburn, Lancashire.

    From this data, scientists are finally able to calculate the hole unit volume of the Albert Hall.

  • September 1, 1991

    Ken Arneson exchanges wedding rings with his wife.

    A wedding ring is a round piece of metal with a hole in it. The circular shape, without beginning or end, is meant to symbolize the eternal nature of love.

  • April 8, 1994

    Kurt Cobain, lead singer of Nirvana, blows a hole in his own head. His wife, Courtney Love, lead singer of Hole, is left widowed.

    "And if you save yourself
    You will make him happy
    He'll keep you in a jar
    And you'll think you're happy

    He'll give you breathing holes
    And you'll think you're happy
    He'll cover you with grass
    And you'll think you're happy now"

    --Sappy

  • August 20, 1998

    Louis Sachar publishes a book named "Holes." It includes a poem about one animal who wants to create a hole, and another who wants to fill one.

    "If only, if only," the woodpecker sighs,
    "The bark on the tree was as soft as the skies."
    While the wolf waits below, hungry and lonely,
    Crying to the moo-oo-oon,
    "If only, If only."

  • My house on September 11, 2001
    September 11, 2001

    Ten years and ten days after Ken Arneson wed, he wakes up to a giant hole in his living room wall. Contractors had removed a chimney as part of a small remodeling project.

    Meanwhile, on the other side of the country, terrorists use airplanes to make holes in the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

    Ken Arneson's hole is trivial, easily and quickly repaired.

    The friends and loved ones of 3,000 people who died that day suffered a hole in their lives that cannot be refilled.

    image credit: Ken Arneson
  • May 10, 2003

    Oily sebum clogs a hair follicle on Ken Arneson's head. A hole exposes the sebum to the air, oxidizing the oil and turning it into an unsightly blackhead.

    Meanwhile, Michael Lewis publishes "Moneyball", a book about Billy Beane, who discovers an unexploited hole in the Major League Baseball ecosystem.

    "Billy, in a single motion, erupted from his chair, grabbed it, and hurled it right through the wall. When the chair hit the wall it didn't bang and clang, it exploded. Until they saw the hole Billy had made in it, the scouts had assumed that the wall was, like their futures, solid."

    image credit: Ken Arneson
  • August 27, 2007

    Ken Arneson publishes a blog entry entitled "Of Holes." Commenter Mehmattski says, "Well, the Internet is over, this post won. Thanks for playing everybody."

    "I despair: I don't want to be a robot, programmed to do what I do, oblivious to the world burning beneath my feet. I want to know what my feet are doing. I want to know where the holes in my life are, and why I keep trying to fill them, over and over. I want to accomplish great feats. I want to see and create beautiful things. I want to have amazing experiences."

    image credit: Ken Arneson
  • June 1, 2010

    A giant sinkhole appears in Guatemala City.

    Here is an event on a timeline.

    We usually think of a timeline as a series of events. But look again. Is a timeline not also a series of holes between events?

    Look at the holes. What is missing? What can't we see? What is being forgotten, being left unsaid?

    We cannot assign significance to the memorable events in our lives without assigning insignificance to the events in between them.

  • May 2, 2011

    US Special Forces shoot one hole in the chest and another in the head of Osama bin Laden, killing him.

    Sometimes, it is necessary to fight holes with holes.

  • August 24, 2011

    After 21 million years of travel, light from the Pinwheel Galaxy supernova reaches Earth.

    The stars come up spinning every night, bewildered in love.
    They'd grow tired with that revolving, if they weren't.
    They'd say, "How long do we have to do this!"

    God picks up the reed flute world and blows.
    Each note is a need coming through one of us,
    a passion, a longing-pain.

    Remember the lips where the wind-breath originated,
    and let your note be clear.
    Don't try to end it.
    Be your note.
    I'll show you how it's enough.

    Go up on the roof at night
    in this city of the soul.
    Let everyone climb on their roofs
    and sing their notes!

  • September 10, 2011

    Ken Arneson visits the Chabot Observatory on the roof of the Oakland Hills. He waits in line for over two hours to get a glance at the supernova in a large telescope.

    Peering in the viewhole, Ken sees a single white dot. In this context, a galactic-scale catastrophe looks to be roughly the size of a pimple on a man's face.

    Driving home in a somewhat disappointed mood, Ken hears a faint sound coming from somewhere in his car. "Flub flub flub," it whispers. "Flub flub flub."

  • September 11, 2011

    Ten years to the day after Ken Arneson woke up to a hole in his wall, he wakes up to a hole in the left rear tire of his car.

    Ken jacks up the car and removes the flat tire. Embedded into the tire, he finds an allen wrench.

    "Hissssssssssssss," the tire boos, as Ken removes the allen wrench. "Hissssssssssssss."

    Ken stops and ponders for a moment how an allen wrench, of all things, could maneuver itself into exactly the proper angle to puncture his tire. The odds against it seem desperately long.

    Ken walks over to the garbage can, lifts the lid, and tosses the allen wrench into the hole.

    image credit: Ken Arneson
  • September 25, 2011

    Ken Arneson goes to see the film version of Moneyball. While watching the film, his blackhead begins to swell up, painfully infected. Later that night, it bursts open, and the pus flushes the blackhead away.

    "That's a metaphor."

    image credit: Ken Arneson
  • September 28, 2011

    Billy Beane's team plays its final game in a forgettable season. Meanwhile, two teams that copied the philosophy he pioneered, battle each other for a playoff spot on one of the most unforgettable nights on the timeline of baseball history.

    As Beane asks in the Moneyball movie, what does it matter?

    It matters, because sometimes, a supernova explodes, and briefly shines 5,000,000,000 times brighter than the sun, giving off more light than every star in an entire galaxy combined.

    And it matters, because sometimes, a single drop of water dislodges a single pebble from a riverbank.

    image credit: NASA via government work copyright

 

Mascots in the Wild

It’s been two years since Baseball Toaster shut down. On the first anniversary, that final day felt like it was only yesterday. Now, it feels like a lifetime ago. Not sure why, but maybe it’s because I’ve completed all the things I quit the blogging scene to accomplish.

Now as that checklist is finally done, and I’m trying to figure out what next to do with my life, I find myself drifting back to my old scene. Today, for example, Toaster alumnus Josh Wilker has a blog entry that compels me to respond with a little story.

* * *

After Toaster, I decided to take a sabbatical from baseball. Stopped watching it on TV, stopped going to games, stopped playing fantasy baseball, and only read about it minimally. I wanted to stop doing so many things half-assed, and give full concentration to my other priorities in life. Plus, my four years of running the Toaster had burned me out on baseball for a while. I needed a break.

That summer, I took a trip with my family to Sault Ste Marie, Michigan. Some good friends of ours in the Coast Guard had been stationed there. It’s a long trip. It took us longer to get there, door-to-door, than it takes me to get to my brother’s home in Sweden. There aren’t any direct flights to Detroit from Oakland, so we took a roundabout flight that stopped in Ontario (the California one) and Phoenix before arriving in Detroit. We then rented a car and drove an additional six hours to get there. Our friends’ home was literally off the last exit in the United States. Miss that offramp, and you end up in Ontario (the Canadian one).

When you’re a six-hour drive from the nearest major airport, you feel like you’re in the middle of freakin’ nowhere. All your cares back home might as well be on the moon, you’re so far from anything you’re familiar with.

One day, we take a trip to nearby Fort_Michilimackinac. While touring the fort, we come across this Native American gentleman giving a demonstration on how the local tribes worked deer hides:

At one point during the demo, he says, “When you get home, you should google my name. Levi Walker, Jr. You’ll be surprised.”

The name sounded vaguely familiar to me, but I couldn’t for the life of me figure out why. So when we got home, we googled it. Levi Walker, Jr. is the man who was once the Atlanta Braves mascot Chief Noc-a-homa.

He was right. I was indeed surprised. Because I had gone to a place on earth and a time on earth that felt as far away from my recent life as a baseball-obsessed blogger as possible. And baseball still followed me there.

At that point, I felt like if I ever went on an African safari, I’d run smack dab into Stomper. I could go snorkeling in the Great Barrier Reef and find Billy the Marlin swimming around. And if I took a rocket to Mars, I would be greeted upon landing by a Furry Green Monster.

You can try to let go of baseball, but it doesn’t matter. Baseball still has a grip on you. You can try to run away, but if you do, don’t bother turning around. Baseball will be gaining on you.

Addo Elephant Park, South Africaphoto © 1999 Brian Snelson | more info (via: Wylio)

 

I don’t know what this coming year has in store for me. I am free now, like a zoo animal released back into the wild. I have no predictions for what will happen next. I can only say this: Look out! Here come the elephants.

Brainyball: The Sequel to Statistics

Our old friend Moneyball will be making a comeback this year, when the film starring Brad Pitt gets released this September. Let me declare seven months ahead of time that I am sick of hearing about how the movie hype is distracting the 2011 A’s during their pennant run. I am also preemptively tired of the rehashing of old arguments, such as how the A’s philosophy failed because the Moneyball generation never won a ring. Finally, I am, in advance, savoring the irony of the A’s winning the 2011 World Series, in the very year that this antique anti-Moneyball argument reaches its crescendo.

I love me a good irony. I took my daughters Monday to see Sally Ride give a speech for the UC Berkeley Physics Department. I looked around the auditorium and noticed that darn near everyone in the room was skinny. Maybe these people burn all their fat off just by thinking so hard about the universe. Whatever the cause, I found myself tickled by this ironic idea: Physicists have very little gravitational pull.

The irony that lies at the core of the Moneyball book is that A’s GM Billy Beane was trying to find a way to weed out players who were essentially just like himself. Beane is a very intelligent guy with an chiseled athletic body whose intelligence got in the way of his performance. You look at him, and you think he was born to be a star athlete. But he never became one. He’d get so worked up about every little failure that his swing and approach got all screwed up. He couldn’t handle the mental part of the game.

So Beane became a scout, then a GM, and tried to come up with a reliable way to weed out players like himself who can’t handle the mental part of the game, and discover the players who can. They tried to accomplish this by using a deeper understanding of statistics.

Which is odd, if you think about it. It isn’t the players’ statistics that are causing players like Beane to fail. It’s their brains. If you really want to be able to recognize players like Beane in advance, shouldn’t you try to do this with a deeper understanding of brains?

* * *

We are living at the very dawn of neuroscience. In the last ten years or so, our understanding of our own brains has exploded, and we’ve still only scratched the surface. Consider this TED talk by Charles Limb:

Limb explains what happens in the brain when jazz musicians improvise. When improvising, jazz musicians shut off a part of the brain called the lateral prefrontal cortex, which is involved in self-monitoring. They literally turn off the inhibitions in their brains, so they aren’t afraid to make mistakes, and are free to be creative.

Now it would be a big leap to say that Billy Beane’s mental failures were caused by an inability to turn off his lateral prefrontal cortex while batting. But it’s not a big leap to think that this sort of understanding of the brain isn’t just possible for musicians, but for athletes, as well.

Someday, perhaps, draft preparations will include brain scans, so teams can see that a Billy Beane’s brain isn’t focusing properly when batting. They’ll know how often you can take a player with Beane’s brain profile, and train him to overcome those brain issues. They’ll discount or increase his value because of this information.

* * *

In Sports Illustrated this past weekend, Joe Posnanski looked into the question of how drafting teams can predict which quarterbacks will succeed in the NFL, and which will fail. In particular, he wonders what set Aaron Rodgers apart from other first round QBs who flopped. He makes a guess:

What you get from these quotes and just about everything Rodgers says — in addition to steady and pleasant boredom — is a sense of someone who thinks about things constantly, even little things that few others think about. He seems to be someone who simply cannot imagine staying the same, simply cannot imagine that he’s already good enough. There are so many potential distractions at the NFL level, some of them off the field (money, fame, fan fickleness …), some on the field (dealing with pain — Rodgers has a history of concussions — standing up to a heavy rush, the inner workings of a team …). And the most successful quarterbacks, bar none, are the ones who deal with those distractions and never believe the hype and continue to hunger for even the slightest improvement.

To which I ask: how does this separate him from Billy Beane the baseball player? Beane thought about things constantly. He obsessed over every failure, trying to fix every mistake. And this sent him into a downward spiral that made him worse and worse, not better.

* * *

Another player who Posnanski’s paragraph applies to is Barry Zito. I’ve written a lot of words defending Barry Zito from his detractors over the years.

I like Zito. If not for the early Cy Young Award and that ridiculous contract, he’d be the kind of underdog people like to root for. Posnanski’s phrase “continue to hunger for even the slightest improvement”: that’s Zito. He’s a smart guy. Curious. He likes to tinker. To experiment. To find a new way to get better. He tries new pitches. He tries new pitch sequences. He tries new release points. And maybe that constant search for improvement has kept him healthy and pitching in the major leagues for a decade with the mediocre-est of fastballs.

But I’d argue that perhaps as often as it’s helped him, that personality trait has gotten him into trouble. Zito has had three pitching coaches in the majors: Rick Peterson, Curt Young, and Dave Righetti. Pitching coaches tend to live by a sort of Hippocratic Oath: if it ain’t broke, dont’ fix it. Zito doesn’t seem to believe in that. Each time there was a transition between coaches, Zito decided to take advantage of his temporary lack of parental supervision to completely change his pitching motion.

In 2004, Zito decided to try a new motion out of the stretch. He’d always wanted to do this, but Rick Peterson wouldn’t let him. When Curt Young came in as the new pitching coach, he didn’t have the relationship with Zito to say no. Zito had a 4.48 ERA for the year, his worst in an Oakland uniform. The next year, he was back to his old delivery, and his usual sub-4.00 ERAs.

In 2007, he signed a huge contract with the Giants, and showed up at spring training with a radically new delivery. Pitching coach Dave Righetti was horrified, and they settled on a compromise semi-radical new delivery. The results were just as bad as the other time he tried to overhaul his delivery: Zito’s worst year in the majors, a 4.53 ERA. (Followed the next year by an even worse 5.15 ERA.) Two years into his Giants tenure, Zito finally tinkered himself back into some decent success, with two consecutive years now of ERAs around 4.10.

* * *

Recently on Fangraphs, Jonah Keri suggested that the Yankees try to trade for Zito.

I don’t think there’s anything particularly wrong the arguments he gives, but it is, like the Moneyball story, missing the psychological element.

Psychology clearly matters in the outcome of sports careers. The question is, understand enough about sports psychology that such data points are useful in evaluating players, or is the information we have so primitive that we should discount such information altogether?

The Yankees are unique in that they also deal with the theory that there are some types of personalities who “can’t handle New York“. This theory may or may not be valid, but I’m willing to consider that it is possible.

I’m not going to come out and say that Barry Zito is another Ed Whitson. But New York media pressure or not, we do have these data points: each time Barry Zito has had a change of scenery, he used the opportunity to make a royal mess of his delivery.

I think if you’re Brian Cashman, and you’re thinking of trading for Barry Zito, you should know these data points. There is a non-zero risk that Barry Zito’s brain is going to get in the way of his performance, because it seems to have happened to him before. And there’s a non-zero risk that the New York media pressure will trigger this effect, because it seems to have happened to other players before. And to the extent you’re willing to believe those risks exist, you have to discount Barry Zito’s value.

* * *

In Billy Beane’s case, the constant striving for improvement was nothing but counterproductive. In Zito’s case, we see some mixed results. So even though it’s a different sport and a different position, I have a hard time believing that the key to Aaron Rodgers’ success is simply a matter of willpower, that same constant striving for improvement.

If I had to guess, a quarterback’s success involves spacial pattern recognition, the ability to quickly recognize types of player movement, to filter out inessential patterns and recognize significant ones, and act on them. Maybe some players filter out too much information, and others not enough. Maybe there are places in the brain that Aaron Rodgers turns on or off in better ways than the quarterbacks who failed. Those places are mostly a mystery to us now.

But they won’t be a mystery forever. A new era is dawning.

Birth of a new age.

First Rule of Sabermetric Marketing…

…is don’t talk about sabermetrics. So I’m going to talk about being kicked in the balls, instead. Then I’m going to explain how my being kicked in the balls is totally relevant to marketing sabermetrics. OK? Let’s go:

I once wrote a blog entry on my old Catfish Stew blog about being kicked in the balls during an indoor soccer game. It went a little something like this:

Somebody forgot to give the goalie the message. Instead of easing up when we got close to contact, he came at me like some freakish combination of Ronnie Lott and Scott Stevens. He ran full speed for the ball, jumped as high as he could to knock it away from me, and in the process, sent his knee full force straight into my groin, and slammed the rest of me right into the hockey-style boards.

The follow-up to that story is that earlier this year I ended up playing on the same team as the goalie who had crushed my testicles a few years before. So I had to forgive, if not forget. Now, you may suspect that the moral relevant to sabermetrics is that those who seem like an enemy could may turn out to be your greatest ally later. Perhaps thats true, but..I wouldn’t temporarily pull myself out of my blogging retirement to make so simple a point.

No, I want to add a more complex point to the conversation going around about the marketing of sabermetrics. The conversation was initiated by Will Carroll, picked up by Tango Tiger, and finally reached Carson Cistulli’s keyboard yesterday.

Reading Cistulli’s message reminded me of an old YouTube video of Steve Jobs introducing Apple’s Think Different and Screw the Grammar ad campaign back in 1996.

If you’re interested in the problems of marketing sabermetrics, you should watch this whole video. But here’s the quote that is particularly burned onto my brain:

The dairy industry tried for 20 years to convince you that milk was good for you…and the sales were going like this (downwards). Then they tried “Got Milk” and the sales have gone like this (upwards). “Got Milk” doesn’t even talk about the product. In fact, it focuses on the absence of the product. –Steve Jobs


Now there’s a reason that quote comes to mind so easily for me. The insight — that listing a bunch of facts about your product is not very effective; the best marketing campaigns make an emotional connection between your core values and those of your customers — is brilliant, but that’s not why I remember it so well. The insight itself is just one in a list of facts about marketing, and probably wouldn’t stick with me very long without an emotional connection.

The reason is this: when I became teammates with the goalie who had earlier impaled me, I found out that in his day job, he was the milk industry executive who had spearheaded the whole original “Got Milk” marketing campaign.

Ever since I learned that, I can’t help but pay extra attention any time I hear any variation of the phrase “Got Milk”. There are very few emotional connections as effective as a solid kick in the nuts. Thus, when Carson Cistulli writes something with similar themes to the Steve Jobs speech, and the quote about “Got Milk” pops right up in my mind.

Now, to turn Steve Jobs’ point into a lesson for sabermetrics: Creating a list of facts explaining how sabermetrics is better than old-school analysis is not the best way to market sabermetrics, just as explaining how MacOS is better than Windows is not the best way to market Apple.

What makes it particularly difficult in this case is that sabermetrics is essentially about removing emotions from the equation. That makes an effective marketing campaign for sabermetrics somewhat of a paradox.

Nonetheless, the questions remain. What are the core emotional values of sabermetrics? What are sabermetricians committed to in their souls? Once you’ve answered those questions, then you start formulating a way to make sabermetrics more mainstream and popular.

So, baseball fans: Got Facts?

Ben Grieve in the Year 2000!

Rany Jazayerli tweeted that Billy Butler is close to a record pace for grounding into double plays this year. Dave Studeman responded by looking at the rising trend of double plays, which brought back to my mind the worst non-Jim Rice season of GIDPs ever: Ben Grieve In the Year 2000.

I always thought growing up that at the Turn of the Millenium I’d be rocketing to Mars and driving a flying car. Wow, were my expectations off. Actually, I spent the year 2000 watching Ben Grieve ground into 4-6-3 double play after 4-6-3 double play. Well, that’s not exactly true. Occasionally, it would be 6-4-3. But mostly 4-6-3. Man, that dude rolled over and hit weak grounders to second base a lot.

At the time, watching all those double plays made me wonder this: when would you want to bat a player like that leadoff?

If a slow guy like Grieve makes X% of his outs by grounding weakly to 2B, but still has a decent OBP, you could remove 20% or so of his double plays by simply batting him first. And with the worst hitters on the team ahead of him the next time through the lineup, he’ll hit with men on base a minimum amount of time.

Of course, that may mean removing a better OBP from the leadoff spot. And it may also mean scoring fewer runs if he hits a home run. And usually, the slow guys are powerful, so tradeoff probably isn’t worth it. But if you morphed the 2000 Ben Grieve (32 GIDP) with the 2001 Ben Grieve (.264/.372/.387), you might have such a strange high OBP/low SLG slothlike mutant where you’re better off batting him leadoff just to avoid the negative consequences of the double play.

BTW, I wonder if Grieve didn’t blow his whole career changing his approach to avoid those double plays. He never got anywhere near 32 GIDPs again, hitting into only 13 the following season after being traded to Tampa Bay, but he also immediately lost about 100 points in slugging percentage, and never really ever got them back again.

Don’t Yet Bid Kid Adieu

No! Ken has not really retired!
He’s not stiff, ceased to be, or expired!
His beautiful plume
Hasn’t gone to the tomb;
His voice ain’t invisible choired!

No, his squawk isn’t really declining.
He’s not nailed to his perch for enshrining.
I assure you his Voom!
Will shortly resume
As soon as he’s done with his pining.

The Least Important Batting Order Ever?

MLB.com’s new A’s beat writer Jane Lee tweeted her suggested A’s lineup today. I found it hard to argue for or against her suggested order. It seems like every player in the lineup is roughly a .280/.335/.410 player, so it didn’t seem to matter much to me what order you put them in.

To test my hypothesis, I ran the 2010 Marcel Projections through David Pinto’s Lineup Analysis Tool. I don’t think the tool produces particularly realistic or accurate results, even though I had a little hand in developing it. But if it’s useful for something, it’s getting an estimate on the theoretical size difference between the best and worst possible lineups.

When I’ve run this before on potential A’s lineups, the difference between the best and worst lineups has been about 45 runs per year. For the projected 2010 lineup, the difference is 29 runs. And since no one is going to bat Coco Crisp cleanup with Jack Cust and Kevin Kouzmanoff eighth and ninth, you can probably say that any reasonable batting order Bob Geren decides to run out there this year will be about as good as any other.

I’m too lazy/busy to run the numbers, but it makes you wonder, how many teams in baseball history have had a lineup where the batting order mattered less than the 2010 A’s?

Slight Preference, Extreme Results

You have to look at philosophy from two levels: the individual, and the group. A slight preference at the individual level can result in extreme results when those slight preferences add up at the group level. Here’s an example of that mechanism in action:

In sports, you see this effect in amateur drafts all the time, particularly in baseball where draft picks can’t be traded. Let’s say a baseball team like the Oakland A’s values college players a mere 1% more than other teams do. The A’s may say and believe that they don’t reject high school players, but the effect of their slight preference is that they end up taking almost exclusively college players, simply because the high school players they prefer are all chosen ahead of them, and invariably when their turn to choose comes up, their highest ranked player just happens to be a college player.

In the NFL, where draft picks can be traded, you could create extra value for yourself if you know that you value players differently than others. The Oakland Raiders have a unique valuation on amateur talent, and nearly every year their selections are a complete surprise to those following conventional wisdom. Because their valuation system is so unique, they could probably create extra value for themselves by always trading down. The player they want will often still be available lower in the draft. Sadly for Raiders fans, the Raiders almost never do this.

In crafting a philosophy, we should be aware of this feature of group dynamics. Groups, moreso than individuals, tend to move either towards the middle, or to the extremes. In America, we see this in our politics. Most Americans are rather centrist, but the system of primaries to choose nominees attracts the more loyal partisans at either end of the political spectrum. So instead of a runoff between Candidate 40th-percentile vs Candidate 60th-percentile, our choices in the general election often ends up as Candidate 10th vs. Candidate 90th. The result is a legislature that is far more partisan than the general population, and is far more despised than it would seem necessary.

How do we keep a set of 60/40 preferences from unintentionally turning into 100/0 behavior, or for that matter, turning 80/20 preferences 50/50 behavior? It’s easy to blame the people involved for behaving badly (see my last article on Willpower Bias) and to argue “don’t do that, you bad people”. But it’s hard to change individual preferences, and especially hard when individual preferences are being affected by group dynamics. More often, the solution is to structurally reduce the amplification. In sports, enabling trades of draft picks at least makes it possible for teams to find more accurate values for their picks. In politics, open primaries or ranked voting systems would probably make the distribution of elected officials look more like the general population than the extremes.

This isn’t to say that there aren’t possible benefits to 0-50-100 group behavior over the messier alternatives. But it’s hard to believe that this tendency will always yield optimal result. If the optimal solution lies at 33 or 67, we want the quickest, most effective way to hit that optimal result. Ping-ponging between the extremes may get us there in the end, but you have to think it would be better to move their directly if we can. Being fully aware of the differences between individual and group dynamics can help us find optimal solutions in an optimal manner.

Rooting Interests

Can you watch a sporting event dispassionately, without rooting for one side or another at all? I’ve tried, but I can’t do it. To some extent, I always end up picking sides. For me, it’s impossible to remain objective.

The curious thing is that I can’t help it. I don’t decide that I need to pick a team. I don’t go through some conscious, analytic process to choose a side. It just happens. Even if I try not to pick a side, I still pick a side. It’s subconscious, outside my willpower, and fully automatic.

Few of us choose our sports allegiances through some rational process. Does anyone believe that there exists some objectively “correct” team to root for? While one could probably invent some formula to calculate the “optimal” team to support, most of us would consider such a process silly and beside the point. The emotions, the pure irrationality of our fandom, is the whole point of the exercise.

On the other hand, philosophy feels different to us. We suspect that there exists, if not a single “correct” philosophy, a scale in which some philosophies are better than others. While we have no objections to letting our subconscious passions decide our rooting interests in sports, there’s a sense that when it comes to religion, politics or other types of philosophy, this same decision-making process is flawed.

And yet, can there be any doubt that for the vast, vast majority of people, the decision-making process for picking sides in both sports and philosophy is exactly the same? A large majority of us end up choosing the same religion as our parents, and the same political party. If we chose them by a purely objective process, you’d probably see a far weaker correlation between the people around us and the philosophies we choose.

Suppose we did want to choose a philosophy using some objective method. We’d need to avoid taking sides in advance, in order to avoid letting our prejudgments cloud our analysis. But when it came to sports, we found we usually can’t really help who we choose to root for. It just happens, subconsciously, automatically.

So here’s the big question: even if we want to avoid prematurely picking a philosophy to root for, can we? Is it humanly possible at all? We’ll explore that question next time.

Happy Bat Day

We have guests arriving at our house tomorrow for Christmas, plus we’re going to start a big remodeling project right after New Year’s Day.  So I’ve been clearing out a lot closets lately.  Here’s something I dug out this afternoon:

The bats were acquired at various Bat Days at the Oakland Coliseum over the years.  The top one is from 1999 or 2000 and “autographed” by John Jaha.  The middle one is from 1976 and has Don Baylor‘s signature.  Not sure when I got the third one without a signature, but it was either late 70s or early 80s.

Missing is my childhood favorite bat, which was from 1975 and autographed by Bert Campaneris.  I played with that bat out on the asphalt of the cul-de-sac I grew up on every day, to the point where nearly all the green paint had been chipped off.  Somehow that bat got lost in dozen or so times I’ve moved since then.  I don’t have much sentimental attachment to these three bats, but I miss my Campy bat.

I remember when I got the bat.  Back in those days, the A’s didn’t just hand the same bat to everybody.  There were bats from nearly every starting player in the lineup, and every kid was randomly handed one when you went through the turnstiles.  I went with two of my best friends.

“I got Reggie Jackson!” said my first friend.

“Oh, you lucky dog!  I got Campy Campaneris.  That’s cool.” I said.  Then I turned to my other friend. “Who’d you get, Wayne?”

Wayne frowned.  He looked at his bat again, to make sure he hadn’t seen incorrectly. Quietly, he read the words to us.  “I got…Ray Fosse.”

“Oh.”  Pause.   “Sorry, man.”

Why San Jose is Better for the A’s than Oakland

I’ve found that culture has generally been missing in the discussion about Oakland vs. San Jose for the A’s.  In a conversation on BaseballThinkFactory on this topic, I commented as follows:

Look, here’s the thing: San Jose is the world capital of the computer industry. San Jose and its suburbs are the home to nearly every major company on the whole friggin’ Internet. It’s the engine that is driving the entire economy of the planet, the whole thrust of globalization. OK? I’ve worked there, met with these people, I can tell you: every President, every Vice President, every Director, every Manager, every CEO, CTO, CFO and VC knows that they are all the most important people doing the most important work in the history of the planet Earth.

These people will all buy tickets to this stadium in San Jose. They will not care what it costs, because they are too important to have such concerns. It will not matter to them if they ever use the tickets themselves. What matters is that they deserve these tickets, because they are such important people. And when they can’t use these tickets (which is most of the time, because they are so very very busy doing very very important things), they will give these tickets to their little people, partly as thanks for helping them do such important things, but also to display what kind and generous people they truly are.

This is how Silicon Valley works. And this is why the San Francisco Giants would much rather have the A’s five miles away in Oakland than 45 miles away in San Jose.