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Comment: Re:It's the Cubs (Score 2) 56

It's not the Cubs, Red Sox, or A's.

The original story about this said that it was "an organization that many might not expect." None of those, or the other teams who've shown marked interest in analytics or who have GMs known to be friendly to advanced analytics (off the top of my head that's the Yankees and Mets, Cleveland, Tampa, Baltimore, Toronto, Seattle, and Arizona to start with) would be particularly surprising. The other thing to note is that "buy a supecomputer!" is the sort of response that a team that suddenly realizes that it's way behind might do. The Red Sox have probably been growing a dedicated server farm to deal with all of the new data sources that have been coming along. They don't need to rush out and buy a Cray.

The speculation at the time the story came out ran to the Phillies (they have cash and seem to be way behind on analytics) and Astros, and then teams like the Tigers and Royals that have a fantastically rich owner.

Comment: it's about defensive analytics (Score 4, Interesting) 56

One of the great pleasures of baseball is that it generates a vast amount of data for the analytically minded to use and abuse to their heart's content.

This purchase is presumably related to MLB's recent announcement of a new system that will constantly track and measure the movement of the ball and every player on the field. Supposedly this is going to generate several terrabytes of information each game, and some team has decided to buy a Cray as a way of processing all that data. Whether that's a better idea than the proverbial Beowulf cluster I don't know, but that seems to be this team's thinking.

Most, maybe all, baseball teams have been doing some variant of advanced analytics for quite some time now. Most of this work is proprietary and secret, but there's been a lot of "open source" (or at least publicly available) work that's probably along the same lines. Sabermatricians (baseball stat people -- from "SABR', the Society for American Baseball Research) have gotten very good at measuring offense, and reasonably good at predicting hitters' future numbers. Nate Silver's PECOTA system is the most famous, but there are others that work about as well (ZiPS and Cairo being the ones I've spent time with, plus the "dumb as the monkey on Friends" system called Marcel). Pitching numbers are understood pretty well, at least as they relate to the Three True Outcomes, which are the results or a batter v. pitcher matchup that don't involve any defensive players (i.e., walks, strikeouts, and home runs).

The next great frontier of analytics is defense. There's been a lot of work in this field over the last decade, but the problem has always been in getting good data. If a ball is hit towards the shortstop and the shortstop doesn't get to it, why is that? Is it because the ball was hit too hard? Is it because the shortstop was badly positioned by his coaches? Is it because the shortstop isn't very good? Data that's not much more than "groundball to shortstop" can't really answer that question, but the new tracking system promises to answer that sort of question in full by precisely measuring reaction times, routes to the ball, and so forth. This in turn might lead to greater and greater changes in defensive positioning, different emphases in player acquisition, maybe even in-game changes based on small changes in wind patterns or whatever.

Some of what we're already learning about defense is very surprising. For example, there has been a lot of work done recently on catcher's ability to "frame" pitches, that is to make a borderline pitch look good. The most current results suggest that the pitch-framing difference between the best and worst catcher might be worth something on the order of 5 wins. That's roughly the difference between having a random scrub and an All-Star as your right fielder, and all from a catcher's ability (or inability) to fool the umpire. It's shocking.

As for what team this is, when the news first broke it was claimed that the purchasing team "would surprise most people". That rules out the teams that are well-known to be friendly to advanced analytics -- starting with the Red Sox, Yankees, Cub, and A's. The best guess I've seen is that it's the Phillies -- they have tons of cash and seem to be very behind on analytics, and seem likely to just go out and buy a supercomputer rather than have the MIT grads in their analytics department jerry-rig a bunch of Debian boxes into something cooler and weirder.

Comment: Re:RAM data retention (Score 1) 287

by Rogue Haggis Landing (#44488197) Attached to: Forget Flash: Resistive RAM Crams 1TB Onto Tiny Chip

I don't recall any of my early Macs (starting with the Mac Plus) bootable to Mac OS in ROM, although large parts of what we'd now call system libraries (Mac OS Toolbox) were in ROM but were commonly relocated to RAM with patches and upgrades. I still think they required booting from an OS boot media and I don't think Finder was in ROM.

The bootable ROM was something exclusive to the Mac Classic. From Low End Mac:

A feature unique to the Classic is the ability to boot from ROM by holding down command-option-x-o at startup. The ROM Disk is called "Boot Disk" and is 357 KB in size. The ROM Disk uses Finder 6.1.x and System 6.0.3 -- this combination is specifically designed for the Classic. The only control panels are General, Brightness, and Startup Disk. MacsBug and AppleShare Prep are also part of the System, which loads into 294 KB of the Classic's RAM. Because this is in ROM, there is no way to add anything to the ROM Disk.

It was a neat little feature. The machine was underpowered for its time, but it had this one thing that nothing else did. (And sometimes I still miss the compact form factor).

Comment: Re:RAM data retention (Score 1) 287

by Rogue Haggis Landing (#44487745) Attached to: Forget Flash: Resistive RAM Crams 1TB Onto Tiny Chip

So not only will they sell new computers without a Windows install disc, they won't even install it on a disk drive, it will be preinstalled in RAM and all you have to do is turn it on.

Someone else has noted that the Commodore 64 and Apple II and other computers of that vintage had this feature. A computer as late as the Mac Classic (released in 1990) also had this feature. You could boot the system software off of a hard drive or a floppy, but without these it would boot from a ROM to System 6.0.3. It was really great -- it went from off to a working desktop almost instantly. A return to something like that would be very welcome.

Comment: Re:Disposable cell phone (Score 2) 364

by Rogue Haggis Landing (#44000325) Attached to: Ask Slashdot: How To Bypass Gov't Spying On Cellphones?

they have an $80 billion per year budget. That's $255 for every Man woman and child living in this country. They certainly can track every single one of us. Especially considering the Majority of US Citizens aren't even old enough to use a phone or the internet yet.

Pedant here -- at the 2010 Census, 79.9% of the US population was 15 or older, which seems like a good age by which most everyone will have a cell phone. So about $322 for everyone 15 and over.

Comment: Re:Religion (Score 3, Interesting) 626

by Rogue Haggis Landing (#43710619) Attached to: UN Says: Why Not Eat More Insects?

What about the other major religions?

There are some pretty explicit food laws in the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, in Leviticus and Deuteronomy. Chapter 14 of Deuteronomy gives a good list. 14:19 says, "And every creeping thing that flieth is unclean unto you: they shall not be eaten." This is presumably referring to insects, so they're out. Also out are pigs, camels, rabbits, anything from the water that doesn't have scales and fins (God hates shrimp!), any animal that "dies of itself" (i.e., carrion), and a smattering of other animals -- no eating bats, people.

Anyone who is actually keeping kosher will follow these laws, which means most Orthodox Jews and many other Jews. Not many Christians follow these dietary laws, but some do.

Comment: Re:No help for the OED until they change pricing (Score 2) 91

by Rogue Haggis Landing (#43668481) Attached to: Help the OED Find a Lost Book

The unabridged OED is pretty much just for libraries and research institutions.

This is true, though a lot of people have access to the OED through a local library and don't know it. Lots of urban public libraries also subscribe to it, as do a decent number of library consortia, and these often allow you to use it online from home. And of course many, maybe most, academic libraries have access to it. I'm a Chicagoan and can use it online through a link at the Chicago Public Library's home page (once I provide my library card number, of course). It's a great resource to have available.

It's not just a matter of price, previous to them coming up with an online edition, the books took up like 3m of shelf space.

They used to print a two-volume Compact Edition, with the print reduced to a tiny size and a magnifying glass included. You can find the 1970s compact reprint of the 1933 OED in a lot of bookstores for not too much money -- mine cost ~$40 in about 1998. The print on the compact version is tiny, but into my late 30s I could read it unaided if I was in good light. Now I depend on the magnifying glass, but it's still useful and fun to browse.

The older edition isn't current, obviously, but it's still useful in sussing out the odd meanings that a common word had in 1638, or finding a word that was last used by Ben Jonson or in a charter issued during the reign of Henry VII. That's really the strength of the OED. There are much simpler sources for finding out what a word means today, but if you have any sort of historical or antiquarian interest in the language then you need to OED.

Comment: Re: Too little too late. (Score 1) 82

The nooks have a Bluetooth chip, but no antenna. That's why you can't recognize the headphones.

This was the case with the Nook Color. It had a bluetooth chip that wasn't activated by the stock software and didn't have an antenna. Cyanogenmod eventually got BT working, but the range was terrible. This wasn't a problem if you were just connecting a keyboard that would sit six inches from the device, but you couldn't wander around the room with headphones on.

The Nook Tablet didn't have bluetooth at all.

The HD and HD+ both have bluetooth enabled by default, but it can be pretty wonky.

Comment: Re:Hardly groundbreaking discoveries (Score 4, Interesting) 296

by Rogue Haggis Landing (#43484871) Attached to: In Iceland, Tap Cellphones To Avoid Incest

unless you're part of the royal family, or in the deep south of the US, where family trees tend to be a lot... slimmer...

The classic example of this is, of course, poor mentally and physically disabled Carlos II of Spain of the cousin-bonking Hapsburgs. His father was his mother's uncle, and the family tree just gets worse from there. To quote Wikipedia, "Joanna [of Castile] was two of Charles' 16 great-great-great-grandmothers, six of his 32 great-great-great-great-grandmothers, and six of his 64 great-great-great-great-great-grandmothers." Oh, and Joanna went insane early in her life, so she wasn't exactly a genetic marvel herself. No wonder poor Chuck turned into something only a couple of steps above a wet sack of blubbering goo.

Comment: cool app (Score 4, Insightful) 296

by Rogue Haggis Landing (#43484219) Attached to: In Iceland, Tap Cellphones To Avoid Incest
Without reading TFA, this actually seems like a cool app (if you're Icelandic, that is). It would be interesting to be able to press a button and see how closely related you are to your friends -- "Hey our great-great-great grandmothers were half-sisters!" Things like that. It would be mostly meaningless, but who doesn't want to know who's in the (very) extended family?

Comment: Re:I'm confused... (Score 3, Informative) 181

by Rogue Haggis Landing (#43416587) Attached to: Iran Plans To Launch an 'Islamic Google Earth'

... is there some sort of 'Islamic geography' that has serious issues with basic tenents of what we know about our dear home geoid?

Many years ago I knew a Lebanese Muslim cartographer, who worked with one of my relatives (a geographer), and I actually talked to him about this sort of thing. The short version is that most of the the modern world maps he worked with were exactly the same as Western maps, centered on the Greenwich meridian because of the conventional measure of longitude and so as to avoid splitting up big landmasses. The avowedly Muslim ones would be just the same, only centered on Mecca or, more often, on the point on the equator due south of Mecca.

Centering the map on Mecca generally means cutting off Antarctica and the southern end of Argentina. Mecca is at about 21 N, so you can potentially get the north pole down to about 48 S (Tierra Del Fuego ends at about 56 S). The more normal practice of centering on the equator south of Mecca means that the edges of the map run through the eastern Pacific and cut Alaska off from the rest of the US, putting it and Hawaii at the far right of the map, while the Yukon stretches to the left edge of the map. That's not a huge difference from the standard Western map. It looks like it because of the distortions of the Mercator projection, but it's not generally a big deal. Centering the map on the Greenwich meridian is a convention; centering it on Mecca's meridian is a different one.

(It's interesting to note that maps are centered on Greenwich simply because latitude is measured from there, and yet the Greenwich meridian is very close to being an ideal central spot if you're interested in avoiding splitting any landmasses. A map centered on a Hamburg or Tunis meridian would perfectly split the Bering Strait, but Greenwich is pretty good. The world's mapmakers got lucky with that one.)

One would of course assume that an Iranian map would have some, shall we say, "provocative" interpretations of national boundaries and place names in the eastern Mediterranean.

On a semi-related note, in the geography-related fields it's demographers who are most prone to the nationalist (etc) political difficulties and shenanigans. My relative's department had a demographer from somewhere in East Africa who in the 1980s had to leave his home country after making population estimates that showed the wrong tribe as having a very high population. It's a lot easier to insist on lies about population numbers than on lies about the contours of the planet Earth.

Comment: Re:Paper (Score 3, Interesting) 145

by Rogue Haggis Landing (#43314415) Attached to: Microsoft Mulling Smaller Windows 8 Tablets

The aspect ratio of 4:3 is quite close to A-type paper sizes, so it's nice for PDFs.

Yes, and it's closer to US letter-sized paper than 16:10 is. I've also long thought that a 4:3 screen is better for using the tablet as a laptop replacement with a bluetooth keyboard. At 16:10 the screen is too wide in landscape and too narrow in portrait. 4:3 is much better for this (though of course generally worse for watching video).

So I really want a 4:3 tablet, but I don't want to buy an iPad. The list of 4:3 Android tablets is short and undistinguished, owing (I presume) to Android being aimed at the 16:10 form factor. I don't especially want to buy a Windows 8 tablet, but a Windows tablet is likely to be more flexible than an iPad, and eventually there will be one with a better build quality and a better screen than most or all of the Android tablets in the link above.

So good for Microsoft and whatever hardware vendors winkled this out of them. I'd rather have a really nice 4:3 Android tablet, but that doesn't exist right now. "OK" might not be as good as "good", but it's better than "meh".

Comment: Re:Slavery? (Score 3, Informative) 215

by Rogue Haggis Landing (#43305777) Attached to: The Man Who Sold Shares of Himself

Actually, in it's earlier forms (especially in Rome) slavery could in fact be voluntary. People actually were able to sell themselves into slavery, usually to pay a debt. Of course, back then slaves weren't really as exploited as they were in more modern times and one could even buy themselves out of slavery if the made enough money. A lot of slaves weren't just free/cheap labor, they became skilled craftsmen and could make a decent amount of money on the side. Or there was always the gladiatorial games if you were really desperate, since those rarely ended in death.

You're talking about the debt bondage called nexum , which was outlawed in 326 BC, pretty early in Roman history. It had no real role in the bulk of Roman history.

The condition of slaves in ancient Rome varied considerably. Some were essentially professional workers, who had jobs and could expect to earn their freedom while they were still young enough to start a family and have a free life. At the high end, several future Emperors were educated by Greek slaves. At the other end, some slaves were miners who could expect to live only a few years. Some were agricultural workers who had a rough life with little chance of advancement, but who could hope to at least survive. Rome was a slave society, with a huge percentage of the population either current or former slaves. They did almost every job available, and their condition was just as varied.

As for gladiators, the best guess is that you had a 1 in 9 chance of dying in any bout. This means that the mean survival would be 6 bouts. Wikipedia suggests that 20-25% of losers died. These numbers are all educated guesses, but the general point stands. A slave who was a gladiator would probably have to survive something like 10 fights to gain his freedom, and his odds of surviving that were very, very poor.

"Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler." -- Albert Einstein