Thursday, December 30, 2010

A Groom's Guide to the Wedding Registry: Seven Rules to Save Your Life

I’m getting married this May. It’s going to be a very exciting time, and I’m very much looking forward to it. It’s gradually taking over most of my existence, which is kind of what happens in these things (or so I hear).

As we get closer, my fiancée and I have started to get deep into one of the major logistical nightmares of the modern wedding industrial complex, registering.

It’s supposed to be fun as you guys plan your future lives together. That’s what they’ll tell you anyway.

I’m here to level with you. The single most important thing about registering for your wedding is survival. Just make sure you get out alive. All the stuff that gets put on your list? It’s nice if you like it, and in an ideal world, you’ll both be ecstatic with everything. But to be frank, just try not to get yourself killed.

With that in mind, I wrote up a list of some guidelines for all you future grooms out there. Just some general advice I wish they had handed out in some kind of pamphlet before I wandered into this world like an Oregon Trail greenhorn who forgot extra wagon wheels.

Rule One – Schedule Your Registering Sessions Appropriately

If you’re planning to register on any given day, it’s natural to plan for the specific items you’ll be looking for. You might target kitchen appliances, bedding, dishes, whatever. You’re also going to plan for an approximate amount of time to dedicate that day. A couple hours, etc. Take whatever time you’re planning to spend registering for that day and double it. Now, take whatever you’re planning to get done that day, and cut that in half. However you originally plan your day, you’re going to get half as much done in twice the amount of time. I think it’s some kind of natural law.

This becomes of huge importance if there is anything else you’re trying to schedule for that day. If you’re a college football fan, don’t schedule anything registry related on a Saturday. Same goes for Sunday if you’re an NFL fan. You can also strategically suggest registering for a time that coincides with your team’s bye week or if they’re playing on an off-night (e.g., Thursday night football). This move will actually win you some points if you don’t mention the fact that your team isn’t playing but still volunteer to go shopping.

Rule Two – Come Prepared

You are going to be spending a lot of time in stores with tons of products you have little if any interest in. Make no mistake, this will be boring. But in a surprising twist, it will also be very physically strenuous. That’s something I didn’t understand until my sixth hour in a Bed bath and Beyond, when I had walked the equivalent of ten miles through the bedding section and all I wanted was a Brett Favre-level painkiller injection (or as an alternative, the sweet caress of death).

Wear. Comfortable. Shoes.

For those of you with back problems, I might also recommend a brace to help maintain proper alignment. You should wear comfortable clothing, and in layers, so that you can add or subtract elements should conditions change. Eating a nutritious breakfast is recommended, with at least some form of complex carbohydrates to provide energy. Consider packing some snacks.

Rule Three – Pay Attention

Sounds easy enough. After all, how hard is it to wander around a store and look at things?

Turns out it can be really freaking hard. Why? Because there are so many things!

You know how many different patterns of china there are?

You know which stores carry which lines of towels?

You know the difference between a quilt and a coverlet?

These are all questions you will soon know the answer to! This process will wear you down mentally because there are no less than a trillion potential combinations of your future home, and your fiancée will probably be interested in exploring most of them.

You want to respect the process, so you should want to pay attention. But these stores don’t make it easy. They do, however, throw us one bone to keep us interested.

The portable scanner.

This is a little device that you use to zap the bar codes of things that you want to add to your registry. If you get a little imaginative, you can think of it like a gun, which is nice.

As a man, it has been universally decided that it will be your job to carry the gun and use it to shoot things. This applies to wedding registries as well.

You have to look at it like an honor. Sure, they’ve taken a scanning job that normally is done by a sales clerk earning minimum wage and pressed you into it, but look at the bright side, you get to shoot things.

This will help you keep your focus. You can also try to make a game of it. How far away can I be and still shoot that thing? Can I do it upside down? Can I do it behind the back?

This will help you pay attention and maintain some semblance of sanity.

Rule Four – If You Can’t Pay Attention, FAKE IT!

Obviously paying attention for the duration of your registry activity is impossible. Even Jesus Christ would lose his mind when forced to choose between the 18th and 19th different china patterns. Our minds will wander, this is inevitable.

The risk here is being called out on it. No one wants that, and if business school prepared me for nothing else, it’s the ability to sound as though you’re paying attention even when you have no clue where you are or what you’re doing there.

These potential cold calls can come at any time. You’ll be walking around the store, looking at whatever, and you just kind of glaze over. Happens to me all the time.

Suddenly, she’ll ask you a question. And you, not paying attention, will not have heard her.

The first thing to do in this situation is to freeze. Don’t move, and don’t panic. Continue staring at whatever you were staring at before, I don’t care if it’s a fabulous duvet cover or a damaged ceiling tile, you keep staring.

Now, the second piece of advice. Do not say ‘What?’ That tells her you weren’t paying attention. Others to avoid, ‘Huh?’, ‘Beg your pardon?’, and ‘I really thought we would be done an hour ago’

OK, so that’s what not to say. So what should you do?

You keep staring at whatever you had your eye on, assuming it’s not some other woman, in which case for god’s sake deploy standard male countermeasures. You look at whatever that object is, make some kind of mental observation, slowly turn to your fiancée, and turn that observation into a question. It won’t relate directly to whatever she’s talking about, but it will indicate that you’re paying attention to the registry process, which should be good enough.

Example: Your fiancée is comparing the weights and feel of different water pitchers (because apparently a Brita isn’t good enough). Meanwhile, you got bored and started running your hand along the edge of a riveted ice bucket, just to make sure you were still alive. She turns to ask you which pitcher you like.

What do you do? You freeze. You then note a quality about the ice bucket, turn, and respond with a question. Potential questions could include:

a) You know, I really like the edging on this bucket, what do you think?
b) Why would anyone be interested in this ice bucket? This edging looks terrible!
c) Do you think this bucket would fit with our other serving pieces? (Bonus points might be awarded if you can successfully relate your question to things you’ve already registered for or seen)

This should show that you are paying attention to where you are and what you’re doing. It may also result in registering for an ice bucket, but it’s a small price to pay.

Rule Five – Money Is No Object…Apparently

I’m not the biggest shopper in the world, but I always liked to believe that I understood the basic economic principles behind retail commerce. I have two degrees in business for god’s sake! But nothing has shaken that belief more than my registering experience.

Don’t assume the price for anything, absolutely anything, will be a reasonable amount. The price can be any amount, they are seemingly assigned at random, and no matter what it is, try not to be surprised (and don’t assume things are priced in some kind of foreign currency that multiplies everything by a hundred, such assumptions are dangerously inaccurate).

You would think there might be a natural order to things. Bigger things are more expensive, or shinier things, or even more practical things. This could not be further from the truth. In fact, there may actually be an inverse relationship. The less practical something is, the more likely it will cost a fortune. You may laugh, but you’ll realize what I’m talking about when you register for salt and pepper shakers that cost eleventy bazillion dollars.

In these situations, you simply have to understand that it is what it is. Ours not to reason why. And whatever you do, you absolutely cannot react by trying to establish any kind of link between the real universe and the bizarro wedding registry world. Sure, if you combined two serving pieces, a picture frame, and whatever the hell votives are, you could probably buy a giant HDTV. Avoid such comparisons at all costs! I’ll leave it to the brilliant physicists with slide rules to explain, but I’m fairly certain that entering a home goods store for a registry flips you through some kind of interdimensional vortex, the other side of which is not unlike Lewis Carroll’s wonderland. Down is up, big is small, hamburgers eat people, and so on.

Just hang in there, nod occasionally, and do not eat any mushrooms.

Rule Six – Watch Out, You Will Need to Have Opinions

Your fiancée will expect you, the future groom, to have opinions on things for your registry (and, I might add, your future lives together). You will often be asked to give input, and to say you have no opinion (which is generally the case) is not an effective option.

She’ll tell you that you can’t have absolutely no opinion, and she’ll tell you that she really does want to know what you think. She’ll swear to this.

However, she is 100% lying to you. Your opinion does not matter.

I realize it’s obvious to most of us, but it’s definitely true. At some point in her life, your fiancée thought all about this process of getting married and moving to the next phase of her life and all that jazz. She envisioned a guy there, but was probably vague on the actual details of who you actually were.

Now you’re there, congratulations! Please don’t interfere!

You see, it’s not that you don’t deserve an opinion, it’s just that you’re Norway.


You’re Norway, the country in Europe, that’s you. Your fiancée is the U.S.A.

You see what I’m getting at?

Let’s say we’re all at the United Nations, and a big issue comes up to a vote. Well, everyone is going to listen to what the U.S. has to say about it. Everyone’s wondering, where’s the U.S. going to be?

You’re Norway. You get a vote too, but no one gives a sh*t. Your country is ranked 35th in military power (according to, which sounds potentially legitimate), you do OK, people like you.

But let’s get one thing straight Knut, when American tells you what they think, you just fall in line and don’t ask any questions, or you’ve smoked your last herring.

So yeah, have an opinion, but don’t get too attached to it.

Rule Seven – If You Really Feel Strongly About Something, That’s OK, Just Be Careful

All that stuff I said in Rule Six applies here. Your opinion really doesn’t matter, and will generally be disregarded if it doesn’t fit with your fiancee’s plan (an appropriate analogy, you are a respected climatologist/economist/physician/person with a higher education, and your fiancée is a hardcore Republican).

However, if there are things that you genuinely want or don’t want, there are a couple tricks you can use (and strategies to avoid) that can be effective.

a) Know your sphere of influence: The easiest place for you to get what you want is in the male-centered area of the registry. So if you do feel strongly about it, play that gender card whenever you get into this space. This applies to things that you’ll typically be doing or your fiancée has no interest in. It commonly applies to areas including grills, grill-related accessories, kitchen knives, anything that could seriously injure someone really. This is an area where you can reasonably make that point that you’ll use the items more often, so work that angle.

b) If you hate something, make the right argument against it: There have been a number of things we’ve registered for that have been points of contention. Things that we disagree on. As per my earlier Rule Six, I’ll usually get outranked. In some of these cases, I’ve tried to make carefully reasoned arguments to support my perspective. Do not do this, as I can tell you right now it won’t work. In some cases, I tried to explain how a significant investment in a serving piece couldn’t possibly make sense unless we used it enough times, and we certainly wouldn’t in this case. In others, the item in question was perfectly suited for a specific situation, a situation that might happen every other decade or so. Every time I explained these thoughts, it would meet with a similar response. ‘But I just kind of like it.’

To which I had no response.

What I’ve since figured out, is that if I really really hate something, I can’t fight it with rationalism. I need to fight it by normalizing the genderized perspective (which is to say, lying)

Example: Say my fiancée was interested in an ornate eight foot high candy dish in the shape of Carl Weathers from the movie Rocky III. This is purely hypothetical, because I haven’t seen anything like that in reality, and because I would think it was totally awesome. At any rate, let’s say my fiancée wanted it, and let’s say for some crazy reason, I didn’t. What would I say to persuade her?

I certainly wouldn’t talk about how little we’d actually use it. I wouldn’t talk about how hard it would be to fit in our house. I wouldn’t talk about the painstaking cleaning process, or its financial cost, or even its lack of aesthetic appeal. All of these are dead ends.

What I would say, is that I know someone (must be female, a friend from school, a cousin, someone else who typically won’t speak to your fiancee), who has that exact one and has had nothing but trouble with it. I might talk about how she never uses it, or how she can’t find a good place for it, or how she hates cleaning it.

You’ll notice my arguments would be the exact same, just from a different person. When presented with the evidence from a female perspective, my fiancée might just be more inclined to listen to what I have to say. As long as it’s coming from a woman, and not from her lunk-head fiancée, it might be worth considering.


You might go through all this and have a bunch of questions (e.g., Wow, why the hell is anyone marrying you, you jackass?). I can’t answer most of them, or wouldn’t really want to, and only hope that anyone whose read this far found it entertaining if not informative. I’m sure I’ve left some valuable lessons out, but that’s what I remember off the top of my head.

Take it with the spirit in which it’s intended. Enjoy getting married, and when you’re in the midst of registering, just be careful out there.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Football and NFL sabermetrics

My friends and I are huge football fans, and recently we got into a ridiculously long email discussion about the study of football, how to get smarter about analyzing it, and the natural obstacles to doing so.

It was fun to think about, and thought it would be worth saving onto the blog (bonus: it counts as a blog post, much of which was contributed by other people!)

These emails were slightly edited for length and content, as well as superfluous profanity and racial slurs.

To: Everyone

From: Matt

Subject: the state of my football fanhood

so yesterday it became clear to me upon watching the eagles that michael vick is actually a very good quarterback nowadays. i had previously thought that vick was overrated. i now feel like i was wrong. my issue is that i dont trust the media or anyone to give me information about football.

here's the issue. for two decades, i was a big phillies, buckeyes, and eagles fan. i listened to what the announcers/beat writers/espn told me, and they all painted this same view of sports with this movie-like depiction of sports as the team who tries harder always triumphs, and how 99% of success is mental, how you can always infer who is the best team from who won the game, especially a big game. and now i know that is all bullshit. i know better now. having researched baseball, i now know that announcers and beat writers are always doing a mixture of trying to fill space, projecting things onto players, and trying to make it seem like they know something that no fan could know on their own.

this has made baseball viewing immeasurably more enjoyable for now. because of my own research, i can watch a pitcher and know that he is more likely to continue his success if he's blowing the ball past hitters instead of inducing shallow flyouts, and i like watching as an expert. carry this over to football. i listen to announcers say the same kind of things, ascribe mental toughness as the reason that everything happens, insist that we learned who the best team was based on who won, and all that stuff. and i know they're wrong. i no longer feel like i can be a couch expert like i felt six years ago when i watched the eagles go to the super bowl. i don't think i know better, something almost every fan thinks sometimes, because i know i don't. i've learned that the people making decisions-- GMs, coaches, etc.-- these are experts, and i know that they are surely wrong sometimes but i don't trust announcers, beat writers, couch experts, anyone, to tell me.

so i find myself caring less about football. last night's game would have left me with a great feeling all day today, and while i enjoyed it-- particularly since i am surrounded by redskins fans-- i don't feel like i know much other than i should defer to andy reid on personnel issues, and that he is almost always right. i'd read football outsiders, but i would need a primer on what i was reading. so i'm in football fanhood limbo. i know i love watching football, but i don't like it as much because i feel like i don't understand what i'm watching with the understanding i want to, and i don't feel like i have enough information to know what i'm watching.

To: Everyone

From: Jared

Subject: RE: the state of my football fanhood

You're saying you don't like it as much because you don't have as much information. I can understand that. However, you're operating under the assumption that the information you're looking for EXISTS, when I would argue that in most cases it doesn't. I love watching football, and while I like to think that I understand the game pretty well, and I understand the players pretty well, I'm also comfortable with a few key facts.

1 - So much of the game is randomly determined, I would argue more so than any other major sport

2 - The information we would need to understand the game at a more sophisticated level is not available, so we take what we can get and use what we have

Unless you become comfortable with that level of ignorance, and the lack of objective measures, you may continue to have a tough time enjoying the game.

There are a few problems with trying to understand the game of football on a level akin to what we can in baseball. I think there are three major roadblocks...

1 - The 'Why Didn't He Block that Guy!' Problem

2 - The 'He Won't Show Up on the Box Score But He's Got Tons of Guts' Problem

3 - The 'Thanks for Falling for the Play Action Camera Guy' Problem

Problem 1 - This is the most fundamental obstacle to understanding what's going on in the game. To me, it's a problem of determining intent. If we know what a player's intent on a particular play is, we can in many cases objectively measure whether or not they have succeeded. In a game like basketball, it's often very easy because each player has generally the same responsibilities and those responsibilities are almost always connected to points. A player shoots to score, passes to assist. We can see what % of shots they make. No one shoots with the intent of missing. In a game like baseball, it's also fairly straightforward. A batter looks to get a hit or a walk. A runner tries to steal. A pitcher tries to get an out. Again, all the roles in hitting and pitching are consistent. They are the same for everyone (and I'm simplifying obviously. Basketball defense is tough to measure, baseball pitchers might look to induce double plays, pitch around guys, hitters might sacrifice, etc.)

However, in the game of football, we have two major elements that blow determining intent out of the water. The first is a matter of complexity. There are 22 starters on offense and defense, most of which are in very different roles, QB, WR, OT, etc. Each of these specialists is responsible for completely different tasks, and those tasks can be completely different from play to play. So even if we knew what everyone was trying to do, all the time, you'd still be left to think about all those permutations yourself and try to analyze it as you watched. That is a recipe for a trip to Crazytown.

But it doesn't stop there, it gets worse! In other sports we have an advantage in determining intent. We can guess with good accuracy what the player is trying to do! A hockey player wants to shoot the puck in the goal every time he takes a shot. In the simplest example, what does a 100M runner want to do? He wants to run as fast as possible (unless he's in a slowest man wins kind of race in some sort of opposite day scenario)

I would dare anyone to watch one NFL game, even one drive, maybe even one play, and tell me exactly what each player was SUPPOSED to be doing, what they were TRYING to do. It's just about impossible. Each play is designed for the eleven men to be coordinated in completing a variety of tasks. What kind of blocking assignments are the offensive linemen picking up? Is the RB supposed to chip the defensive end? And then what route is he assigned to run? Is the slot WR running a square out or a square in? Unless we know what these guys are supposed to do, we have no freaking clue of whether they're actually doing it!

If this were a Madden world, we'd be all set. Because we'd know each play called on offense and defense, we'd have a record of what everyone was supposed to do. But we don't live in a Madden world (to the dismay of John Madden, who would probably be some sort of Emperor and travel in an even bigger bus)

Some times you'll see an offensive lineman standing around, not blocking anybody, and the QB gets sacked. And you'll scream, 'why didn't you block that guy!?!' Maybe the lineman blew his assignment, but it's also possible that someone else blew theirs.

Problem 2 - This is a large part of what you describe in your email. We know what writers and announcers tell us, and it seems logical. So and so is a great leader. That guy is focused on his contract. Etc. You also describe why they say such things, and that's because they have to! The NFL is the most popular sport in the country, and demands round the clock coverage. In a world with a lack of objective measurement (in part because of problem #1), what are we left with? We have to say something. So we get the cliches. (As an aside, I almost never trust anything any TV or national football guy says. They simply have too much to focus on, following all the teams at once. You can't possibly know a lot of valuable insight regarding each team. An exception to that would be someone who watches a sh*t-ton of game film and illustrates it for you. Ron Jaworski does that a lot and has a show that is on ESPN at some god-awful early hour where they only do that. I love that show, most of the rest is just noise to me)

If we had objective statistics, we might make some headway. But we're not there yet, and I'm not sure how close we can even get due to problem #1. The stats that are thrown around today are, to put it diplomatically, less than ideal. By now most people are comfortable with the idea that Rushing Yards isn't the best measure of a running back, because if I were playing for the Eagles, and I received 10,000 handoffs, I could potentially gain 1000 yards. Of course, I'd also be dead, but you get the point. Yards per carry is a marginally better indicator, but even that can't distill it perfectly, because a running back is hugely dependent on his teammates and their ability to execute. It's also very dependent on the situation the running back finds himself in. Example: running back A gains 12 yards on a draw play, and running back B gains 3 yards. Who's better? In identical situations, running back A. But if running back A gained his 12 yards on a 3rd down and 26 yards to go, while running back B gained 3 yards on a 3rd and 2, it's a very different answer. Oh yeah, and that's for a running back, who at least gets his outcome measured. Good luck on an offensive lineman or a safety!

This is in large part what Football Outsiders is trying to address with their DVOA stat. It tries to evaluate each player's actions given the situation faced, with adjustments for things like opposing defense. I know it's not perfect, and they'd tell you the same thing, but it's an attempt to isolate the player by himself, because we just don't have good stats to measure them.

There are some others out there trying other things. There's KC Joyner for ESPN, but I'm even less convinced by his work because I looked through a sample of his book some years ago and saw lots of tables on things like, WR Success Catching Out Patterns, where they were ordered by percentages but it was often a sample size of 4. There's another one who's name escapes me, but they have someone watch and grade each player on each play. Don't even get me started on the red flags there. But the work is advancing.

However, until it makes a ton of progress, we're still going to hear about guts because we don't know enough about anything else, and we have to say something.

Problem #3 - The last major problem on my list, is simply one of data availability. In football, well, there really isn't any. These guys are data hoarders, laughing maniacally in their houses amidst piles and piles of game film that none of us will ever see. Or maybe they're just not as open minded, I prefer the former.

If any of us really wanted to understand the game, and understand the strengths and weaknesses of players, we would watch game film and we'd watch a lot of it. We'd look at the coaches cameras, and we'd play it back over and over and over. Then you'd be able to see specific plays where individuals messed up, where someone may have made the wrong read, where someone didn't get a good block.

But we don't have that, not by a long shot. We only get to watch the game on TV, from the network perspective. Hell, our view for that isn't even good. We never have any idea what the safeties are up to when the ball is snapped. Brian Dawkins could have been starting each play all these years from the crane kick position. We'd never know without the game film, and no one has the game film outside of a) coaching staffs, and b) NFL Films I think. I have no clue why they keep it so tight. Coaches/GMs might not want it publicly available I suppose.

The NFL also doesn't put out a ton of great data on the plays of each game. They have a game book for each one, but it leaves a lot to be desired. As someone who helped Football Outsiders with gathering their play-by-data, I'm more than familiar with that mess. It all adds up to a world in which getting more information is very very difficult.

So we live in a world where we're not sure exactly what the players are supposed to be doing, we don't have a great way to measure what they do do, and we can't get access to the information we'd need to confirm what we even thought they did.

It means we're really kept from performing deep analysis on the game. But that doesn't mean you can't understand it better. I'd start by not paying attention to what the announcers say, especially if it's Joe Buck (not because he's particularly wrong, just because he's a jerk). That's job #1. Other things that I try and do is look at the plays objectively, don't just watch the skill players, and mentally discount situations where luck is pretty freaking obvious.

It's still a great sport to watch, and don't feel concerned that you don't understand it like you want to. You need to understand that no one else does either, and you're view is probably as good as anyone not on the sidelines.

To: Everyone

From: Matt

Subject: RE: the state of my football fanhood

Alright, Jared, I hear what you’re saying and I agree. There probably is not very good data out there and football, so conclusions are hard to come by. I think that maybe I gave the impression that my issue is that I want to have a better relative understanding of what went on. That’s not the issue. I want to have an objective understanding of what happened enough that I can infer something about what happened on the play I just watched other than “Michael Vick through the ball far and DeSean Jackson caught the ball.”

Like, I want a crib notes of Moneyball for football. Like, I’m pretty sure that going for it on 4th down is probably a good idea all the time at midfield and punting from the opponents’ 38 is bad. I like that. I can work with that. You told me once that kickers are not consistently good at kicking short field goals or maybe long field goals, which one? I can work with that fact whichever way it goes.
I want basic things to know about football, whatever can be inferred. Enough that I know something about what types of positions are overrated and underrated. Who was the most underrated player in the victory? Can we say something about why yesterday’s game went the way it went?

On the luck issue, while the 16 game season makes games inherently dependent on luck to win enough games, the spread of talent in football in terms of how well teams can beat other teams is very big in football. If you figure out the standard deviation of football win percentages net of the natural standard deviation that you’d get from luck, and then do the same for baseball, there’s still like twice as much variance in team skill level in football than baseball on a per game basis. Which makes sense because you’d never see a baseball team given a 90% chance to win a game on pinnaclesports.

So really I just want some understanding of what I’m seeing. If I can’t trust the announcers, fine, I expected that. But I’d like some sense of what types of things I can look for about which I can have some knowledge. Is QB TD% a stupid stat? I’ve always thought INT% was more important even if QB rating treats them equally. Is Completion% important once you adjust for Yards/Attempt instead of Yards/Completion? Things like this could help immensely. Even knowing why certain stats are stupid would help.

To: Everyone

From: Jared

Subject: RE: the state of my football fanhood

Ah, well in that case, I would say that reading some of the general Football Outsiders stuff can be helpful. However, I'm not convinced of all their conclusions. Some things, coaches are way too conservative on fourth down, a kicker's accuracy beyond 45 yards is not consistent year to year, make a lot of sense to me. Others, like their QB theory that college completion percentage and number of collegiate games started predict success, or that 3rd down conversion % is not consistently repeatable, I'm not fully on board yet.

But with that said, a lot of what they say is definitely interesting and it's trying to make sense of the game in a logical and straightforward way.

It's hard to just give a whole bunch of things to know. But I'd bet a lot of them are things you probably already think.

Example: Establishing the run is a made up thing that announcers say. Announcers typically say something like, 'when this team runs the ball more than 30 times, they are 12-0.' Well of course they are. Any team with a lead in the 4th quarter is going to disproportionately run the ball to keep the clock running. The announcers look and see that lots of runs and a winning record are correlated. But they assume the runs lead to the victory.

Now, if the announcers talked specifically about how using those running plays are going towards setting up play action, that makes a little more sense and is something I might be inclined to believe.

In terms of specific stats, there are some that I like, and some that I don't really care about. But remember, this is all my opinion, and not necessarily right

RB - I like yards per carry, which seems pretty obvious. I think that's the best conventional stat. Football Outsiders has it's DVOA stat, which I think is better because it takes into account the result relative to the situation and other factors.

QB - I'm not a huge fan of most of the stats you mentioned. Things like completion percentage can be messed up by running a west coast offense vs. a run and gun offense. Yards per attempt is a pretty good one.

WR - Yards per catch maybe? I like FO's catch rate, which they release every year and while it's based on someone manually charting games, it seems pretty accurate to me. As an example, Jason Avant had the best hands in the league last year. If you watched all the Eagles games closely, you'd be like, 'well that's obvious, even if he does suck because he's from Michigan'

Defense is much much harder because there aren't a lot of good stats. Tackles are good? I suppose their better then not tackling the guy, but if your safeties have tons of tackles, that doesn't mean they're good, it might mean your defense sucks. Another example, interceptions. Yes, they're very very good. However, if you're Revis, maybe you're so good at covering your man that they never throw your way. Or maybe you get a lot of INTs because you gamble a lot, and you also give up a ton of big plays. I'd love to see more on defensive linemen, in particular, things like hurries and pressures/knockdowns. When you force a QB to throw, that is usually a good thing and can lead to other good things (not converting 3rd downs, interceptions). But that's not a very well kept or well publicized statistic.

In terms of underrated or overrated players. A simple rule would be that the importance of the offensive line is systematically underrated, and the defensive line is also underrated (but not nearly as much as the OL). The offensive line is the only thing that allows the offense to succeed, but it's very hard to see exactly what they're doing or understand what they're supposed to do. They also don't catch the ball, run the ball, or score touchdowns, so the announcers very rarely talk about them. If a running back is tackled behind the line of scrimmage, do we really think it's the running back's fault? On Vick's last touchdown throw last night, he did a great job of escaping the one guy who got to him, but there's a reason the other guys didn't and Vick could keep scanning the field to find Avant in the end zone. Its similar for the defensive line, particularly the tackles who don't get many sacks. People see Patterson and Bunkley without sacks and they say, 'these guys suck!,' but they don't suck, they just aren't pass rushers. But we don't have stats to measure them, and the announcers rarely care, so no one pays attention, but the line play is one of the most important things in the game and something a lot of people don't look at.

So yeah, watch the lines.

To: Everyone

From: Matt

Subject: RE: the state of my football fanhood

a lot of that stuff is definitely logical and stuff i could try to incorporate into my watching. i like the 4th down thing, the long range accuracy thing is interesting though i tend to think that there is selection bias where kickers are asked to try harder kicks in the wind and stuff based on how good they are. the college games started issue is really just a proxy for how good people thought he was when he was younger. it's not useful. it's like saying that guys with bigger signing bonuses in baseball do better. yes, but not because of that. i guess that's useful for proxies but it doesn't get at what i want to know about watching games.

the "establishing the run" thing is something i've always thought was mostly bull. i think that there is an issue with whether you keep 4-8 guys in the box, and so i'm sure that you need to be a game theorist to make the defense have to prepare for both run and pass on each place, but the number of times run is bullshit obviously. also, i've always noticed that most qb's who throw for 300 yards lost.

does DVOA value individual players? do they describe their methodology anywhere? i can never find anything on that site and i'm always left to throw up my hands and give up. it's actually designed worse than baseball prospectus' website which i thought was impossible.

the catch rate thing for WRs is interesting but...i, how do they do it? do i just trust their numbers? i don't want to just trust numbers blindly. i'd like some sense of where they come from. i feel like there isn't much of that.

defensive stats all seem bad. that doesn't help me get into things either.

is yards/carry really the best stat for RBs? i'm always inclined to think it's based on how many really long runs you get. that's certainly useful but isn't the point of runs usually to either get a first down or to get closer to the first down marker? like, if you have a north/south back who just goes up the middle all the time, and he gets 3 yards per rush but never fumbles and rarely loses yards, i'm inclined to think that might be better than a back who averages 4 yards per rush, but that's because his rushes are divided between 18 yard rushes, no gain rushes, and 6 yard losses. like, 2/3 of the time he's unsuccessful.

is there a way to measure line play? some kind of metric of some kind?

what do football quantitative researchers know that football scouts don't know? that's my question.

i really would like to learn enough information such that i could watch a game and have some knowledge about how smart a coach's decision was or who was to credit/blame for big plays. like, who was better on the vick/jackson td to start the game? vick or jackson? or the o-line?

To: Everyone

From: Jared

Subject: RE: the state of my football fanhood

Lots of questions, some with answers, some without

- Yes Matt, they do DVOA's by player for the skill positions, they have some other metrics as well, and while I don't know how precise they are, I generally agree with their direction.

- You bring up a fantastic point about rushers, in that there's a value in consistency vs. the value of a boom or bust running back who can gain 20 yards but also lose 3. FO has talked a lot about this, and they obviously have more advanced metrics than yards per carry, I was just citing that one as the one that's on TV that I actually look at (as to say, the best of what's readily available). They (FO) have something called success rate, which gets at the point you're focused on but I don't know too much about the methodology off the top of my head

The basic question you have is what do researchers know that football scouts don't, and I don't know that there's a great answer for you. To figure out where the advantages/knowledge gaps would exist, we need to think about where data is available and where it's not. I think it's fairly safe to say that quant analysts looking at things that can be objectively measured can provide insights that go against conventional wisdom (i.e. what the 'football scouts' believe). Things like the kicking accuracy not being correlated from year to year, and that distance on kickoffs is far more consistent and a better measure of leg strength. There are stats on that, and through basic analysis you can draw a conclusion or at least a hypothesis. I think the same thing is doable on general tendencies (i.e., when to go for it on fourth), because they have complied historical data that they can look at and draw conclusions which people on coaching staffs might not have (or maybe they do, we don't really know for sure).

In terms of player analysis, I don't believe they are fundamentally better than the regular football guys. I think their stats work to show which skill players are actually delivering value, and I think those are good, but I'm not convinced they're better than the average football guy (although they may be more informed than the below-average football guy, i.e., the raiders or the redskins). But we should keep in mind the advantages football guys have over the stat guys, those that I mentioned earlier. The football guys have all the film and know much more about what plays were called and the players' intent. They also spend days and weeks and months analyzing it, which all of us can't do. Now granted, they don't build objective pieces of information into data sets for real thorough analysis (again, maybe some do, but we don't know), so my guess is a lot of it becomes the basis for 'gut' decisions, and that might make it less accurate then if you had a supercomputer doing it, but it's still an area where they possess an informational advantage.

I think a great example of where both groups collectively have no idea is in college player evaluation. NFL draft picks become busts regularly, and it's clear that teams haven't figured it out (and let's remove coaching and opportunity from the equation to simplify. Those things are obviously huge deals in player development, but let's just say that even if those were constant, there would still be lots of busts). Teams try to figure out who won't be good, and the quant analysts are trying too, but no one has convinced me that they have a good model yet. I don't know what the pro teams are up to obviously, but I'm sure they're trying to be data-driven (the 49ers have a former management consultant as one of their top guys, as an example). FO has done work there too, trying to find measures of college players that correlate with success in the pros. But that stuff is in its infancy and I don't know that I trust what's out there yet. The same problems that exist for analyzing professional football exist for college, only with 100+ teams instead of 32.

As an example of some stuff that I like reading (and one specifically related to your question about vick/jackson), I'd recommend this article from FO today. It doesn't have any stats, it's just taking certain plays and really focusing on them to see exactly what happened. You definitely won't hear this type of stuff on the broadcast, and I haven't seen it in any kind of reporting.

It actually diagrams some plays and gets into detail. Now it's a sampling, sure, but when you read it you start to get a feel for the types of things that can be important and/or should be looked at

To: Everyone

From: Renato

Subject: RE: the state of my football fanhood

I'm really enjoying this thread. It should be published.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Local Sports Content

News came out the other day that reinforces earlier stuff I've been saying about sports media content.

Comcast Joins Sporting News

Comcast Sports Group has entered into an electronic publishing deal with the Sporting News to create regional editions of Sporting News Today in the markets where Comcast has regional sports networks.

The first edition launched this week in Philadelphia.

I'm still of the mind that local sports broadcasting rights will be one of the only genres of television programming that will maintain its value to traditional advertising. The continued acceptance of, in order, DVRs, on-demand, and web-based alternatives like Hulu pretty much ensure that timeboxed viewing of shows will generally go away.

However, people still want to watch sports, and they still want to do it live as it happens.

So that content will still bring eyeballs, and for years TV players have been fighting for position to establish themselves as the dominant player in major regions.

Fox has regional networks, Comcast does as well, and it would be 100% non-shocking to see ESPN rollout regional networks as well (lord knows they have enough other ones). ESPN's already creating online portals for regional sports news, and while I think Comcast has also done it, I don't know anyone who goes there for their sports news. But this article indicates a more concerted effort to build an online complement to their TV presence.

People will keep watching sports on TV, and they'll keep watching the ads because it's an event that people want to see live as it happens (event viewing as opposed to program viewing). So TV players will keep trying to build their way into those positions to control the viewing.

But I wonder if it's all for nothing at the end of the day. There's no question that for smaller sports leagues, selling your TV rights to an established entity so that they can run production makes a ton of sense. You probably won't see an MLS network in the near future.

But for a business like the NFL, which is obsessively watched more than any other sport in the U.S., eventually they're probably going to keep it all to themselves. Some local teams already do this, like the Yankees and the Maple Leafs in Toronto (because yes, some people care about hockey!). The NFL is gradually working its way there, in establishing its own network, fighting for broad distribution, and slowly moving its games there (Thursday night football only on NFL Network!)

Pretty soon, they'll run the whole thing. But for now, the media companies will still fight to bring it to us in the interim.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Chrysler Commercial - - > A minivan for nerdy kids

I don't get to see much TV, and when I do, I tend to skip the commercials. However, if I have it on at the gym while I'm on a treadmill, there's really no way to escape them regardless of how fast I run.

On a number of occasions I've seen this commercial for a Chrysler minivan. And it's a commercial that's been really really bothering me. Not because it's deceiving, and not because it's way too loud or features some other kind of crazy concepts conjured up in a Don Draper vision.

This commercial has been edited and re-dubbed in an illogical way. It makes absolutely no sense, presents us with images that cannot connect with the story being told, and I feel it implies that everyone watching it is too dumb to notice.

Here's the offending commercial, or at least part of it. I couldn't find a full clip on YouTube, maybe because Chrysler feels so guilty about thinking we're stupid that they're trying to erase it from existence:

Anyway, the beginning of the commercial has a voice over from a kid saying, 'Hey Parker, I'll race you home' Or something to that effect.

However, it's fairly obvious from the video, that kid isn't racing anybody, he's trying to get the hell away from those punks who are going to beat him up!

A more complete version of the ad shows the kid hiding behind a tree, and when he does actually throw himself into the trunk of the conveniently placed van, it's clear he's just happy to be alive.

At no point, was it a race among friends. That kid is a nerd. And those kids wanted to beat him up (which implies they're jocks, the nerds' natural enemy)

Anyway. I'm guessing someone at Chrysler with a beat up kid saw the ad and was like, 'Um, guys, this is a terrible message. Unless we're selling to the parents of kids who get their ass kicked every day'

So they changed it, but they changed it for about five cents by re-dubbing the first line and keeping the rest of the commercial as is.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Budget Truck Rental Follow Up

I wanted to post a follow-up to my lengthy Budget Truck complaint.

If you can remember the details, that's amazing! It was such a long time ago.

However, if you can not remember the details, here is a quick summary.

- I reserved a rental truck for a New York to Chicago move
- I showed up to pick up the truck, and Budget informed me they had given my truck away and didn't have any more
- They didn't offer to help me in any way.
- I found a different truck company by some miracle, and got my move completed, but with significantly more money and a ton of wasted time
- I wrote an angry email to both Budget Truck customer service department and the CEO of the company
- I got a call and apology from the GM of the NYC region, and a promise that if I sent him my receipts I would get reimbursed
- I got a poorly worded/grammatically incorrect response from the Budget Truck executive office, that reminded me they make no guarantees of actually having a truck. They also gave me a small coupon for my next truck rental.

Fast forward to now, a good three months ago.

Did I get any kind of check? A sympathy card? No. I've received absolutely nothing from them.

Not that I was expecting something positive from a company like Budget Truck Rental. The company, based on my interaction with their employees and customer service representatives, is staffed by some of the laziest and most incompetent jerks on the planet.

Budget Truck sucks, their customer service sucks, and I'll never use them again.

And when I say I'll never use them again, I absolutely mean it. And not only will I not use them, I will actively persuade others to avoid them as well. If you've heard of Net Promoter Score (a corporate measure of the share of customers who actively promote you to others), well I'm the opposite. Call it a Net Destroyer Score.

So I'm going to start destroying their reputation. My blog has well over 10k hits to date. But even if I only convince one other person to avoid Budget Truck, I'll feel like I've made a difference.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Re-Attaching the Cord

I've moved back to Chicago, to a new apartment, and have completely realigned my telecom portfolio.

That is to say, I've gone back to the cable companies, and am once again a TV service subscriber.

I was content to live in my apartment, relying on a fast internet connection, a netflix subscription, and a Roku streaming box. I had more than enough content.

Then I moved in with my fiancee, and discovered that if I recommended an option that left her without easy access to Say Yes to the Dress and several cities worth of Real Housewives, I would soon find myself fitted with a new pair cement shoes at the bottom of Lake Michigan.

OK, so cable it is. Welcome back into my life, Comcast. I'm assuming you've changed and are now easy to deal with, right?

What's more, we no longer subscribe to internet service.

Yes, you read that right. Me, exhibit A for any prosecution of Internet addiction, an internet subscriber no more.

What changed...did I find Jesus? (or, if not Jesus, an anti-technology version of Jesus, a Unabomber Jesus I guess)

Of course not, don't be ridiculous. We have free Wi-Fi in the building.

But the Wi-Fi has left me in something of a conundrum.

The service is adequate for basic internet. Web surfing and some light video (short clips on YouTube), that stuff's ok, but forget about anything consistent. Let's just say, if your life depended on your internet connection (think Obama receiving national security information, or me conducting my fantasy football draft), you definitely can't rely on it.

So what's an internet addict to do? Do I subscribe to a plan? Add to my already significant Comcast bill?

It's not an easy decision, in part because I love using my Roku box, and not having an internet connection turns it into a pretty lousy accessory.

The Roku allows me to stream Netflix, watch, YouTube, and a whole bunch of other hyper-specific and relatively useless channels.

Clearly, a more thorough analysis is required.

Reasons I would like Internet:

- Netflix streaming: For $9/month, I have access to an increasingly large library of on-demand content. Some people complain that it doesn't have the most recent movies. This is true. However, it's got tons of movies that I actually want to see and TV shows I'll always watch (e.g., Arrested Development, South Park)

- For $100+, I can watch the Phillies on my big screen. Of course, Comcast has the Extra Innings package, which I think is more expensive, but quite similar. Plus, my 2010 season pass is already paid for. A sunk cost if ever there was one.

- Future Channel expansion on Roku: This is one of the more tantalizing areas. Roku continues to add channels, both officially and unofficially. Of course, they never comment on what's coming. What would be great is an NFL channel, or an NHL channel. But since this is the real world, the NFL doesn't seem willing to give up on the stupid DirecTV Sunday Ticket monopoly, and the NHL might still be too stupid to do something that would allow MORE people to watch their sport. So really, there might not be a lot here.

- Worry-free internet connections: A dedicated line would reduce frustration of disconnection/slow connections over this freaking building's Wi-Fi. That's definitely worth something, particularly if it prevents me from throwing my laptop against a wall.

But really, is that list so compelling? For an extra $40+ a month? Heck, even for $20/month?

Sadly, I don't think so. My rational MBA brain is screaming, 'That's a terrible investment! In no way is it NPV positive! (assuming the value I derive from the service as equivalent to cash inflows)

I may also put a hold on Netflix, because one DVD at a time isn't fantastic, and I can't get the streaming that I enjoy, so why waste $100+/year?

So it looks like the decision is solid. I've re-attached my cable TV cord (but still disconnected the cable internet technically, I'm still a cord cutter!)

Saturday, August 21, 2010

An Unfortunate Lesson in Option Value

I'm a consultant, and as a consultant, I'm also a major points-hoarder.

Doesn't matter what or where, if it's got a program that'll get me anything of value, I'm in.

Airlines, Hotels, Rental Cars...

I would register for a Red Lobster rewards program if its platinum level came with extra portions during Shrimpfest.

But my true points hoarding heart belongs to hotel programs. Starwood and Hyatt are my two chains of choice, and I constantly go back and forth like a mixed up tween choosing between Team Edward and Team Jacob (note: I know this is from Twilight, but I'm still not clear on who these people are, or why I should pay attention to vampires. I feel like it's an apt analogy nonetheless)

I'm fairly in the Starwood camp at this point, because that's what a lot of more senior consultants have told me, and the SPG Amex is a pretty good card if you don't care about the nominal annual fee.

Anyway, this is to set up the fact that I track their promotions fairly closely. Recently, Starwood offered a new one. With five stays at their hotels, you could have any one of three reward options.

Option 1 - 4,000 SPG points

Option 2 - Something like a restaurant gift certificate, I don't recall, it was a bad option

Option 3 - 25% off a points redemption at a Starwood property.

The choices were offered to you at the SPG promotion registry website, and you had a few weeks or so to make your choice. You could only choose one option, and once you made it, it was irreversible.

Now, I could have waited a while before making an award selection. I had the option to sit back until the end of the registration period, then at that time, make a choice to maximize my future reward. It was available at no additional cost, except that I would need to remember to physically register for something.

I sat there and debated in my head.

Am I really going to be in a position where I need to use points and will need the reward? I can't think of anything. Of course, I could wait, but then I might forget. The 4,000 SPG points is pretty tempting, I can always use more points and they never expire. The redemption coupon has an expiration. I kind of just want to make a decision and stop thinking about it.

So I did stop thinking about it. I picked the 4,000 points. Option to decide in the future forfeited.

Flash forward 6 weeks or so.

I'm sitting with my fiancee in our new apartment, and we're thinking about our honeymoon destination. We've settled on Hawaii, and I start to look into hotels that I can book using points.

I book one five night block at a really nice looking St. Regis in Kauai. That's a pretty hefty number of points, but it's a really nice hotel (or so I've been led to believe). Then I look to book some nights in Maui, and it hits me.

The Westin in Maui costs 12,000 points per night. You get a fifth night free with a booking, so for five nights it would come to 48,000 points.

Oh crap, I realize, that redemption coupon I passed up.

The coupon would've gotten me 25% off in points, turning it from a 48k requirement to a 36k requirement. It would've been worth 12,000 points.

Of course, I had just cashed it in for 4,000 points straight up.


I tried to get it changed, but given my hotel-switching prowess, I had already racked up the necessary 5 stays and had already been credited with the bonus points. Even if I hadn't, the promotion specifically didn't allow any changes after a selection (because you would obviously change it to a coupon if you realized you could use it and it would be financially beneficial)

Sigh. Looks like I'll have to keep throwing the Starwood Amex around. My kingdom for another 48k SPG points.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Budget Truck Customer Service Sucks, and is also OK...

So the biggest news of the month is that I've officially moved. I have left Manhattan and moved back halfway across the country to a new apartment in Chicago.

No, I didn't renounce my consulting career to run back to Chicago and become a deep dish pizza artisan. Transferring offices at the firm was actually surprisingly easy, it only took about a five minute conversation with a partner. One of the perks when you're working in a transient environment, no one really cares where you are when you're not at work.

Anyway, I needed to move all the stuff from my apartment out to Chicago. Seemed simple enough. I went on Budget Truck rental, who had a location in Manhattan, and booked a one-way rental to Chicago for a Friday pickup at noon. I did this a few weeks before my move, got my confirmation, and was all set.

In the weeks leading up to the move, I started to line up all the other logistical details. I began packing boxes, I arranged for the elevator with my super, I cleared the move day as vacation with my project team, I even got my brother to come up from Philadelphia to help me load the thing.

Everything was all set, just needed to take the subway up to Midtown and pick it up.

I found the lot easily enough, it was the one with a couple trucks sitting around.

My brother and I went inside the office and up to the counter. There was a woman in front of us renting a truck.

I waited patiently while the woman finished up her forms, went outside with the agent and got in a large truck, driving off.

As she departed, the agent came back in the office and I gave him my credit card and license.

He took my stuff and worked at his desk. He worked for a while. Too long, it seemed.

Finally, he came to a realization.

"Oh, I was supposed to hold the 15 foot truck for you"

I wasn't sure exactly what he meant, but I suspected the worst. The clerk then confirmed the worst.

"That woman had reserved a van, and we gave her the truck being held for your reservation"

I quickly thought of Seinfeld, and that I was in a bizarre cosmic rerun of that scene.

I tried to remain calm, explaining that they needed to find me another truck.

We don't have any other trucks

What about those in the lot???

Those are all broken down

What about two smaller trucks???

That was our last one

This round of dialogue went on for a while, me asking how I could get a truck, the clerk explaining why I couldn't.

Needless to say, it was seriously screwing up my plan.

My brother and I quickly put backup plans into action. He called UHaul, I called Penske. Our prospects seemed dim, as it was a hugely popular period for moving.

The Penske woman even laughed when I asked her for an immediate reservation. However, we were in luck, as one office had just gotten a 15 foot truck back and had it available.

Of course, it was in Brooklyn.

So I ended up having to take a couple trains over to Brooklyn and pick up the truck. Not only was it more expensive, but it set us back a couple hours that ensured we left Manhattan for our drive right in the teeth of Friday afternoon rush hour.

Needless to say, when I got to Chicago, I wanted to make sure Budget knew what had happened.

So I looked up their customer service email address (as well as their CEOs), and wrote them a polite but firm email.

They responded, but they responded twice and in wildly different fashion.

The next day, I had a voicemail from the General Manager for the New York area. I connected with him the next day, and he was very apologetic. He agreed that it was completely unacceptable, and that if I would send them a copy of my Penske receipt, they would reimburse me for the difference between it and my Budget reservation. I thought that was fair.

I haven't gotten a check yet, but I'm assuming I will. Anyway, I thought the case was closed at that point. But then I got an email. Two emails actually. Both from the 'Budget Truck Customer Service Executive Response Team.'

Sounded serious, like a crack SWAT team of Indian call center workers. Maybe it's a team of experts, each with a different specialty like an action movie. There's a pilot, a strongman, maybe a smooth talker. That actually is most of the A-Team, but you get the idea.

Then I read their email. Wow.

Budget Truck takes seriously it’s commitment to have the rental truck our customers reserved available for them at the time and locations it’s reserved at. Unfortunately, there are instances when there may be an unexpected vehicle maintenance issue or the previous customer’s plans change causing them to keep the truck longer or drop off at a different location. This is the reason we do not guarantee a specific size, time, or location as specified on our terms & conditions which are accessible on our webpage.

As you stated, the end of the month is a very busy time for moving and trucks are in short supply.

We will also send you via email and apology letter with coupons you can use with a Budget Truck or Budget Car.

We do apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused you.


Budget Truck
Executive Desk

I'm still blown away by the content of that message. They may as well have told me to go screw myself. Allow me to summarize...

1. Sucks to be you
2. We never promised you a truck at a time and place, we promised you some kind of vehicle at some point in the future, potentially
3. Here are coupons, because we know you're anxious to use us again.

I'm not even going to talk about the grammar errors in the email. Of course, the next email was also there to distract me from playing language police.

The next email had the subject line

BTR (APOL) Standard CS Apology Letter.xls

The content, was an excel file, that had a little text. The most salient part was the section where they asked me to accept their apologies for any inconvenience I may have experienced due to inventory delay.

Is inventory delay the technical term for 'Your idiot clerk gave my truck away to someone else' ?

Anyway, they also gave me a couple coupons in the attachment.

- 15% off my next Budget Truck rental
- Up to 25% off a Budget car rental

Note: Coupons expire 12 months from the date of the letter

So in the event that I need to move again in a year, and want to take a Budget truck again, I'll get 15% off, which falls somewhere between a AAA discount and a mark down the clerk will give you if you show some cleavage.

In short, the Budget manager seemed like a reasonable guy, but their 'Executive Response Team' is borderline absurd.

Rest assured, I won't be using Budget Truck again. Get bent Budget Truck.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Just a lonely caveman

It finally happened. A terrifying ordeal that left me numb with loss and near tears. A shell of myself. I should have known something would go wrong. I should have known the potential for casualties and collateral damage was high.

:::cue flashback:::

It was one of the more challenging travel days I had ever planned for myself. The end of a vacation abroad with nothing but a few hours until a new project.

An eight hour flight back from Amsterdam into Newark, NJ, then after a brief stopover to exchange laundry for fresh work clothes, a trip out to LGA for a flight to Chicago and the beginning of a new project.

It was supposed to be simple. No one was supposed to get hurt.

Sure there were signs things were going to go wrong. A few black clouds that, at the time, looked like nothing more than random circumstance.

Checking out of my Amsterdam hotel in the morning, the shuttle I booked took off without me while I waited for it in the lobby. Unfortunate.

A pre-flight lunch at the airport which included a giant splotch of ketchup on my shirt, the last clean one in the bag. Bad luck perhaps, or maybe just a case of a poorly handled sandwich

The flight from Amsterdam was on time, a good sign. Of course, eight hours spent in the middle seat with nothing on the in-flight movie but the romantic comedy, Valentine's Day, seemed like something designed for a sitcom laugh track.

But I was fine. I was making good time. A breeze through customs, a train, a different train, a subway, and a bus later I was back at my place with a freshly packed bag.

Plenty of time to get to LGA. Nothing to worry about. No reason to suspect the sword perilously dangling above my head, about to drop.

I hopped in a cab, and as the driver took off, he asked if I had cash for the fare.

As a work expense, I put them on my corporate card, for the ease of reimbursement. Plus, I just got back in the country and didn't have a ton of U.S. cash. I didn't think he would take my Euros, so I didn't bother asking.

Take another cab, the driver told me.

Frustrated, a clambered out of the cab, got my bag from the trunk and hailed another.

As I got in and the cab began it's journey, I noticed it.

A suspicious absence in my front pocket.

My wallet was there, as were my headphones...

but where...where was my iPhone?

I checked my pockets...I checked my backpack...the floor of the cab...the depths of a cab seat cushions...


My shirt collar was getting pulse quickening.

It must have fallen out of my pocket when the cab with the faulty card reader booted me out.

I did my best to avoid a complete heart attack. My phone was password protected, but it had all my information. Not only that, it was my anchor to life! My news, my sports, my link to family and friends! When you spent you're life in airports, hotels, and conference rooms, your cell phone is more than a communications device, it's what keeps you alive!

And mine was riding away in some other cab with a busted credit card machine.

I tried to figure out a plan. We had already lost sight of the cab (although that would have given me the best excuse to yell, 'Follow that car!' Which I've always wanted to do)

I borrowed the cab driver's cell phone and dialed. No answer. I text'd a message to the phone with my address and the promise of a reward,a figuring it would pop up on the phone. No response. I called a second time, and a third.

Nothing. It was ringing, but those desperate calls went unanswered.

When I arrived at the airport, I knew I needed to keep up the search. If that phone wasn't found in the first 12-24 hours, I'd probably lose it forever. I'd lose it to the streets. If I didn't find it, who knows where it could end up! Alone and scared, maybe in the gutter, turning trick phone calls for a nickel a minute?!?

I booted up the laptop and sent out a distress signal to the family. If everyone called the number over the course of the night, someone would have to eventually notice it.

But when I landed in Chicago, no one had gotten a response.

I kept up the campaign late into the night and even early the next morning. But by the next morning, my calls were not met with rings, only a direct link to my voicemail.

My phone was off, and with it, likely any chance at recovery.

That was Sunday, and since then, I've been without a phone. Without remote email. Without my anchor.

Oh sure, I ordered a new one. But each new phone takes between 7-14 days to get processed.

And so I sit. Alone.

Some people would call that liberating. They'd say that freedom from the shackles of a modern cell phone would allow me to clear my head.

Those people are stupid.

I know that the access and processing of new information triggers the release of dopamine (or so I think I read). And sure, that's probably what's turned me into a complete info-zombie. Craving more and more data at all times. It's why I have a hard time watching a movie without a laptop, or taking the train without a podcast on my headphones.

Yes, I'm a complete information addict. And now, with no remote source of data, I'm just a stumbling junkie in withdrawal, wandering the streets looking for a data fix. I grew desperate, begging, even bargaining with strangers. I tried to trade my apartment for a list of the most blogged New York Times articles!

But there were no takers. So I'm still back in the stone age.

Just a lonely caveman in a crazy modern world.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

A Tight Ship, Indeed

Longer posts are on their way, believe me, I have a couple on my to-do list. But really quickly, I got the following email today from our HR organization.

Now remember, I've been working here for almost a full year, and have lived in the same place the entire time. However, I had a different address when I was an intern, and getting my HR-related documents (most notably, a health insurance card) to the right place has been problematic.

Subject: Address Change Notificaton


Memo: Address Change Request
RE: Change of address request


This memo is to inform you that your change of address request was updated in our system.

The following address is now in our records:

Effective Date: 10/07/2009 10:38:05 am
XXX East 12th Street
New York, NY 10003

If this address is incorrect please contact your local Human Capital Representative


Human Resources

I think there should be some kind of absurdity filter for these emails that says, 'Wait, it's June and we're just processing this request from October?'

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

A weird feeling

It's been a strange couple of weeks for me at the good old consulting firm.

One recent Friday, the week before our series of final meetins with our current client's project, I got a strange call. I was being rolled off the project, effective the following Monday.

It seemed a little odd to me. Not only because we still had the final presentations to do, but also because it didn't seem like it was very much notice. There was no chance I'd be picked up by another project, and thus, I would have my first ever time on 'the beach'

In consulting speak, 'the beach' is something of a fairy tale magical land, where you aren't officially working on a project. There's no crazy travel plans to make, no hotels, and no working until 4am (usually).

Of course, like any fairy tale magical land, it's also quite toxic if exposed for too long. And by toxic, I mean you get booted off if you are on 'the beach' for too long (which makes sense because you aren't earning the company any money).

So I wasn't going to be traveling, and I would be back in New York. By mid-afternoon on Monday, I was assigned to help out on my first proposal, a manufacturing-focused effort to a consumer products company.

I actually found it really interesting. I got to research a completely new industry, uncover industry trends, develop broad strategic hypotheses...all while sleeping in my own bed (I also snuck in a movie one night).

Of course, it couldn't last forever (and if I want to afford to eat, it shouldn't), and by this past Monday I was staffed up again. For the next two weeks I'm learning a lot about the steel industry, which will conveniently take me right up to the 4th of July, and my first long vacation since I started.

It's already started to feel weird to not have to be working all the time. I wonder if I'll go crazy when I'm on vacation and completely unplugged.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

The Coming Sports Diaspora

Ugh. It has not been the best of days today.

I'm sitting at the airport, waiting for a flight that's been delayed for two hours, this after working until 3am last night.

Oh, and by the way, the Flyers lost in the Stanley Cup finals in a game that I had to listen to with one earphone while simultaneously working on a presentation.

At least I missed what turned out to be a big disappointment.

The Stanley Cup finals were notable, not just because it gave the Flyers their first chance to win the cup in over 30 years (which they blew because they're goalie is very below average, but that's an aside), but because it pitted the Flyers, from my native Philadelphia, against Chicago, my soon-to-be full time residence and the home of my fiancee.

It definitely made for an interesting dynamic, one that I'd just as soon avoid in future championship games (unless the Philadelphia team is going to win).

But it raises an interesting question. Let's fast forward some medium to large number of years, and let's assume we have at least one kid and live in the Chicagoland area.

What team does our kid root for??? And this doesn't apply just to hockey. Football. Baseball. College sports. Who will be their favorite player growing up? What's the first jersey they'll wear? And who are they going to side with when Australia plays Pakistan in cricket???

OK, so cricket will be a non-issue. But the sports rooting interest is a very real issue.

Of course, for our generation, this wasn't that much of a decision. Thanks to more primitive technology, it was much harder for someone like my dad (a Massachusetts native) to follow his Boston teams upon moving to Philadelphia. It became even harder to indoctrinate his kids into similar likings. As such, not only did my dad become a Philadelphia fan, but one of his kids (hint: me) grew up into an all-time great Patriots hater.

But now, the tables have turned. Now you can get just about any sports game in the comfort of your own home. Expanded national sports coverage, premium sports packages, streaming sports radio on the internet, and internet versions of local-area papers make it extremely easy to follow your teams wherever you live.

So following your own team after you move becomes pretty darn easy. Which means brainwashing your kids into liking your teams should be pretty darn easy too (note: this may be the first time I ever make a ridiculous assumption about what I'll be able to force my kids to do. I'm sure it won't be the last)

Now there's a risk involved, and it's the risk of raising a kid who becomes a social pariah for liking the wrong team at school. To that point, I'd simply shrug my shoulders and say, 'If my kid is anything like me he'll be overweight, so they'll have bigger things to worry about anyway'

Of course there's one other issue. That whole thing about my fiancee being a Chicago sports fan. Apparently her opinion counts too, or so I read in the 'Unfortunately, your fiancee will start being right all the time' pamphlet they hand out when you buy engagement rings.

But she's a reasonable person (or at least doing a great job of faking it so far). So let's go down the list and figure out what teams will win out.

Hockey: Flyers vs. Blackhawks

Now, this one is still a little raw since it's been less than 24 hours since the Flyers' goalie threw a big pile of garbage on his reputation.

However, this one is non-negotiable. I've been going to Flyers games since I was born. I've got jerseys, I've t-shirts, I've caught pucks at games.

Even after watching the finals, I'm still not sure my fiancee knows what Icing is.

Winner - Flyers

College Basketball: Illinois Illini vs. Penn State Nittany Lions

Another slam dunk, pardoning the basketball reference. College basketball is a big deal to the Illinois crowd, they have chants and everything. They also wear orange, which appeals to me as a Flyers fan.

Penn State does technically have a basketball team. I may have played for it while I went there, I'm still not sure.

Winner - Illinois

Professional Football: Bears vs. Eagles

Another major rooting interest for me. Over the past few years the Eagles standing in my mental hierarchy of sports teams has improved, mostly due to the fact that football is by far the easiest sport to follow consistently. It's one game a week, rather than hockey's 3 or baseball's 7. So much easier to watch every game.

And given that it's a naturally violent sport that's confusing for novices, I'm hoping my fiancee doesn't care at all. She likes to do other things on Sunday besides watch sports on TV, which also gives me control of what football we display in the house.

And if you thought I wasn't going to raise my little kid to yell out E-A-G-L-E-S EAGLES! and hurl batteries at opposing players, you were kidding yourself.

Winner - Eagles

At this point, it's becoming clear to me that when I care even a little about the sport, I'm going to push my team. And when I don't care about the sport at all, I'll let my kid root for anyone.

So with that, let's quickly ensure some Chicago balance huh?

Professional Soccer: Fire vs. Union

There's a Philadelphia soccer team? And it's called the Union??? No thank you.

Winner - Fire

Professional Basketball: 76ers vs. Bulls

This might be close if the 76ers still had Dr. J. But apparently that was like 25 years ago.

The Sixers have been terrible most of my life, and I also don't really like professional basketball as a sport.

The Bulls might get LeBron James. So hell, even I might start rooting for them anyway

Winner - Bulls

I wish I could stack this deck a little more, but I don't know if either city has a WNBA team, and I think Arena football may be defunct? World Team Tennis???

Meh. It's about even right? Moving on.

College Football: Illinois Illini vs. Penn State Nittany Lions

Another college matchup, but this time the roles are reversed as my alma mater believes in football. I'm not sure Illinois cares, although they do win points for having a native american mascot. I like mascots that can potentially be offensive.

Penn State is also one of the winningest football teams in all of college. They have Joe Paterno, and they've got tons of cute kids merchandise. You can dress your kid up as a lion, you definitely can't dress him up as an Indian (well, you could, but I think it's weirder)

Winner - Penn State

Baseball: Phillies vs. Cubs White Sox

The last big enchilada actually gets pretty easy. It would be one thing if my fiancee was a Cubs fan (and by Cubs fan, I don't mean one of those fake Chicago Cubs fans that defines 'fan' as hanging out and getting drunk in Wrigleyville). National league opponents would make for a potential rooting conflict. But given that she's an American league girl and I'm a National league guy, there should be room to co-exist.

Our kid should be able to root for both teams with little risk of disaster. But just in case a White Sox - Phillies world series is in the cards. I'm going to indoctrinate for the Phils anyway

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Delayed Vacation Story About a Potential Vacation Delay

This story has been long overdue for a blog post, but now that I finally have some time over a weekend and the Phillies game is blacked out on my Roku box, I can write up the details behind my crazy trip to Scottsdale.

It wasn't Scottsdale itself that provided the adventure, but the relatively short distance between the western Massachusetts suburb where I am currently working, and Logan airport in Boston.

A distance of less than 35 miles, but one that nearly killed me...

:::Fade to story intro:::

I was working on an assignment for a technology company, and the project had been extremely busy. Late nights, little sleep, and crappy late night meals collectively wore me down. But with each successive night, I was getting closer and closer to my vacation.

Thursday and Friday off, leaving Wednesday night for Scottsdale Arizona, where I would meet up with my fiancee for a relaxing stay at a nice looking Hyatt resort. It seemed like a great place to take my first vacation since starting with the firm in September, and to say I was looking forward to it was an understatement.

Every day, in talking to my fiancee, we would count down the days until vacation.

Yes, there was nothing I was looking forward to more than that Wednesday night flight out west, away from late night emails, rapidly changing project scopes, and my stupid laptop (of course, I wasn't going to physically go away from my laptop, that had to come with me, but metaphorically speaking).

And every time I would speak to my fiancee, and we talked about vacation, I would talk about how there was no way in hell I would miss my flight from Boston, which I needed to make in order to connect in Newark, NJ and make my flight to Phoenix.

Wednesday started out typically enough. My flight was at 4:40 in the afternoon, and I had planned to leave the office at 3:00. No problem, right?

Then I got asked to go to a meeting at 2:30. In a different building then where we were based. Half hour meeting on the calendar, plus a roughly 15 minute drive away.

OK, still not so bad, only moderately inconvenient.

I go to the meeting, taking a member of the client team with me.

We go, talk a bit, and get the heck out of there only slightly late. The client knows my vacation plan, and understands that I need to leave.

I get back to the office a little before 3:30pm, with the intention of ducking in, grabbing my laptop and bag, and peacing out.

Of course, that's when the project manager decides to start talking about a part of the project that until now, has been largely ignored. Lots of questions...questions without easy answers...answers that certainly won't be figured out in the next 5 minutes...

And yet, more follow-up questions...

Now, there are four of us in the room. My project manager, another associate, and a client. The client and other associate know I need to leave ASAP, and I can feel their empathy as they watch me struggle to end the conversation as quickly as possible. It's not like my project manager didn't know my vacation plans either...but he didn't seem concerned that I would miss my flight

"One word answers, one word answers," I thought to myself over and over.

"Just agree to do whatever he says when you get back and get the heck out of here"

"Wow, why is this taking so long?"

I just kept agreeing and agreeing as I packed up all my stuff to serve as a visual indication that I had to leave. I didn't even know what I was agreeing to at that point. It's possible that when our first kid is born I'll have to turn him/her over to my firm, that's how little I was focusing on the conversation and how much I was focusing on getting out of there.

Finally, my manager relents. I can tell he's not happy or he thinks I'm an idiot, or some combination of the two. But I booked this trip months ago, everyone knew it, and there was no way I was missing it (Because if I had missed this trip for anything work related, not only would I have been furious, but my fiancee would have taken a flamethrower to my office)

So at this point, it's around 3:40ish and I'm hustling out the door into the parking lot.

"OK, OK...this is totally do-able. It's the middle of the day, it's ~30 miles problem...I can do this"

I get in the car (actually my project manager's rental) and speed through the parking lot on my way to Route 495...Now, I need to be on route 495 for maybe a couple miles, just long enough to reach the Massachusetts turnpike, make a right, and speed off to freedom...

I pull onto the highway, and run smack into bumper to bumper traffic.

Holy sh*tballs

That's actually a much more cleaned up version of what I actually said. I swore so much and so hard I think I scared some of the nearby cars.

I couldn't afford any traffic, I didn't have any time, and here I was sitting in stone cold gridlock.

For a good 5 minutes, I freaked out beyond all possible freakouts.

I did everything I could think of in those two minutes. First I looked on google maps to see if there were any alternatives...but I only needed to go 2 miles...of course there were no alternatives.

I pulled up Kayak on my iphone and started to price a new plane ticket. The best I would be able to do was a later flight that would get me in in the wee hours of Thursday morning and cost over $600.

"Let's try to avoid that" I thought, looking out over the sea of cars that may as well have been in park.

I sat...and stewed...and sat...and stewed.

I couldn't believe I was going to miss my flight, as precious seconds ticked away... I promised my fiancee I wouldn't screw it up...I swore to her that I'd make my flight come hell or highwater, and here I was screwing it up.

To say I was mad as hell would be an understatement.

And then I came to a realization...there was a perfectly good shoulder on this highway!

But wait, that presents an ethical dilemma. The shoulder is meant for breakdown purposes only, to be used for disabled vehicles and emergency access. It is not meant for traditional driving. On the other hand, wasn't this an emergency? Didn't I need emergency access?!?

I slowly but surely merged my way over from the left lane to the right lane. I glanced around nervously, took a deep breath, and gunned my project manager's rental SUV right into the breakdown lane.

I flew down the lane, passing dozens and dozens of trapped cars. At first I tried to pretend like I was just someone trying to angle for a better view of what was up ahead, but after a few seconds ditched all that and hurried down the highway for my exit.

And as I rounded a corner, I saw in the distance traffic starting to break up. It had only been a couple of miles, but something was blocking much of the road. I approached the blockage, negotiating my way back into traffic when I saw police flashers up ahead.

There had been a relatively serious accident, with a car still overturned, blocking two lanes.

I couldn't contain my jubilation as I passed the accident, and sped forward on a now empty freeway.

But I was still racing against the clock, without much time to make it the ~25 or so miles down the turnpike.

At that point, I turned into some combination between a NASCAR driver and a soccer mom on amphetamines.

There was no time for speed limits, and no time for other cars, this was an emergency!

I weaved in and out of traffic, flying at every opportunity (but never in a really unsafe fashion! relax mom!)

I would alternate between checking the clock, checking to make sure I was under 90 mph, and watching the road to plot my next passing attack.

I was actually doing ok, but still very much behind schedule...I needed to get faster

And then, I hit my first toll booth.

Now, since I've been on the project, I've rented several cars. And each time, I've paid the extra $2.50 for an EZ pass, so I can pass through all the turnpike tolls without having to wait a few minutes each time and worry about cash and receipts and such.

My project manager, did not believe in the EZ Pass (which honestly, is ridiculous. We typically wait at two toll booths each day, and four on our way to and from the airport. If each one takes 5 minutes, that's at least an hour a week of our time. And last time I checked, we bill at a rate of more than $2.50 an hour. But I digress.)

I got to my first toll booth, and without an EZ Pass, my heart sank as I settled into the long line of cars for the cash only lane (or as I usually refer to it, the 'stone-age moron lane for people who fear technology')

I waited, and waited, looking nervously at the dashboard clock.

The line was barely moving, and I was running out of time...

"This is an emergency!" I yelled to myself in self-serving rationalization, as I veered out of the cash only lane, gunned the engine, and blasted through the EZ Pass lane.

I kept speeding, when I came to another toll booth.

"EMERGENCY!!!" I yelled again, as I floored my project manager's rental car through the EZ Pass lane

Further down the road, yet another toll booth (what the hell Massachusetts?)

One more time, "EMERGENCY!"

It started to get a little fun actually (in hindsight, not quite as much fun since I discovered the fine for an EZ Pass violation is $50).

But I persisted, I had to make this I approached Logan airport with about 25 minutes before my flight was scheduled to depart (yes, depart, not board)

I weaved around traffic and broke a couple minor laws in the airport to get to the rental car facility.

I hopped out of the car, grabbing my laptop bag and suitcase out of the trunk.

The rental car guy approached my car to check me back in, but I took off for the shuttle to the terminal.

"I don't have time! E-mail me the receipt!!!" as I ran for a bus I hoped had a leadfoot driver

I jumped on the bus, for what was definitely a foreign driver.

"I have a flight in 20 minutes!" I told him

"OK, we leave now" he responded.

I was flying Continental, which luckily enough was the first terminal on our stop.

As we approached, I got everything ready for what would have to be the quickest security line ever. I had already checked in online, and was using a mobile boarding pass on my phone. I needed it to work too, because I had no time to print another one out. I also got out my ID, and put any metal I had in my laptop bag.

We got to the terminal, and I flew out of the bus, running up the escalator to the security check point. I quickly checked for my gate and rushed towards the lines.

"First class" a security agent said pointing to his left. "Or coach," as he then pointed to his right.

I needed help, I was so late.

"My flight leaves in 10 minutes," I said, trying my best to sound exasperated, "Is there anything you can do?"

He blinked.

"First class," he repeated the point to his left. "Or coach" again pointing to his right.

Not that this is breaking any new information, but TSA agents are dicks.

I got in the coach security line, and saw that I had 10 minutes and about 10 people to go.

I got myself fully prepared (laptop out, liquids bag out, shoes untied) and tried to assess my odds. I would be fine if everyone could just get through smoothly.

A minute later, and I hadn't moved an inch. At that point, an announcement came over the PA system, "Final boarding call for Continental flight 481 to Newark"

Oh crap.

I knew I had come too far to give up now, and I just brazenly walked to the front of the line and begged others to let me through because my flight was in final boarding (I begged as I put my stuff on the conveyor, so I didn't give them much of a choice, but as I've been saying, it was an emergency)

I stuffed my luggage through the metal detector, threw my shoes on (no time for tying!), grabbed my laptop in one hand and my roller bag suitcase in the other. I balanced my liquid bag on top of the computer, and took off sprinting for the gate.

I saw the gate in front of me. The door was still open!

I got up to the counter...the gate agent looked at what I mess I was.

"Don't worry, you made it!"

Friday, April 23, 2010

But What if You Know that they Know that you Know?

Saw an interesting article in the WSJ yesterday, enough that I thought it warranted a quick entry (also because I'm on a bus back home and would rather do this than another 10 minutes of work)

The article details an investigation into potential price fixing between two airlines, Virgin and Cathay Pacific on their UK - Hong Kong route. Basically, they're being investigated to see if they're conspiring to fix prices at a higher level than the normal market clearing rate.

Ok, so that's not necessarily so interesting. They just made a movie about one of the biggest price fixing cases in corporate history (Matt Damon in the Informant!). But judging by the people that went to see it, even that wasn't interesting.

However, this little piece of the article caught my eye.

The OFT (ed: Authority) alleged that through contacts between employees over a number of years, the airlines coordinated strategies on passenger fares through the exchange of sensitive information about pricing and other commercial matters.

The OFT said the matter was brought to its attention by Cathay Pacific under the watchdog's leniency policy, where a company that is the first to report its participation in cartel conduct may qualify for immunity from penalties. Provided it continues to cooperate, the Hong Kong carrier will be immune from any penalty imposed in this case, the OFT added.

What the what?

I find this fascinating.

Basically, if you collude with your competition to screw over your customers, you can get off free if you just rat out your collaborators.

So, which is more ideal for a company???

A) Don't price fix, and avoid risk of penalty, but avoid price fixing profits

B) Price fix, cooperate indefinitely, expose yourself to risk of discovery/penalty and enjoy the benefits of price fixing (important note: along with your competition)


C) Engage in price fixing, enjoy benefits of price fixing for a certain time, and rat out your competition so that they are penalized, but earning immunity from prosecution in the process

You could basically turn your corporation into some kind of super secret double agent, ratting our the evil price fixer for the good of the little guy consumer (note: no one would believe this story in a million years, but the CEO could walk around to the James Bond theme in his/her office and feel cool I guess)

You'd also get the additional profits from screwing the market over, while avoiding penalties that would hurt your competitor.

So why are there not more companies price fixing and turning themselves in???

Alternatives (with my real answer at the bottom):

1 - Corporations play by the rules and don't price fix unless their run by evil super villains (Probability: Extremely Low)

2 - Corporations do price fix, but are so fiendishly evil that they collude without a problem, despite the apparent incentive to deviate (Probability: Low)

3 - If this were a one-shot game, everyone would rat everyone out, right? If the world were to end after one year, and you were trying to make as much profit for your airline before the world ends (note: you'd be a loser, go hang out with your kids!), you would sure rat out your collaborator and expose them to penalties that could help you (e.g., loss of airline route access, financial penalty, etc.). However, this is not a one-shot game, as corporations are designed to outlive all of us.

Thus, an uneasy truce among price fixers, right?

I guess maybe Cathay Pacific thinks the world is about to end...or they just don't care about pissing Virgin off...either way, it's not good for Richard Branson.

But he's a super billionaire, so I'd guess he's cool with it.