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March 24, 2006

Lung Cancer and Nonsmokers

Mom has recently become involved with the relatively newly formed Lung Cancer Circle of Hope. While this New York Times article may not have a particularly well-presented and overarching thesis (unlike, say, the piece mentioned here), it's woth a read:

"If 80 percent or so stem from smoking, that leaves about 36,000 cases and 30,000 deaths a year that are not related to smoking. That puts non-smoking-related lung cancer in the same league with colorectal, prostate and breast cancer. If we wiped out smoking, lung cancer would still be the No. 3 cancer killer of Americans."

March 23, 2006

Four Ways to the Final Four

I'd like to spend this entry discussing what I view as four prevalent strategies that people use when filling out brackets for the NCAA Tournament, particularly for involvement in a pool in which points are awarded for successfully picking all the winners in the tournament, without special bonuses for picking upsets. Which category do you fall into? Are there other significant categories that I've missed1?

  1. Pick each game backed on the matchup. Ths is the straightforward strategy employed by people who feel they know enough about the teams in the tournament to predict how each game will go. They look at their brackets and say to themselves, "Hmm; is there any chance that Albany's 7' 1" big man can control the game against UConn? No? Then I'll go with the Huskies." After repeating such a dialog for the 32 first-round games, they then move on to the second round, and examine the matchups that have been formed by their first-round predictions. This continues all the way through to the championship game, at which point they apply a point-by-point to the Duke–UConn matchup and emerge with their pick for the tournament winner.

  2. Pick each spot on the brackets based on aggregate matchups. With this strategy, a person chooses the team to put in each bank spot in the bracket based on which of the eligible teams is most likely to defeat the combination of other teams that they might face to reach that point in the tournament. As with the first approach this strategy relies on relatively detailed knowledge of the teams in the tournament and reasonable analytic abilities to determine which teams benefit most from their aggregate potential matchups.

  3. Ask the experts. A person using this strategy spends the days between Selection Sunday and the start of the Tournament listening and reading various experts' opinions on upset specials, Cinderella teams, sleeper picks, and favorites. When he sits down to fill out his brackets, select nuggets of expert prognostication permeate his thoughts and drive picks of certain lower seeds winning first-round games and even reaching the Sweet 16, Final Four, and beyond.
  4. The game theoretic approach2. The previous three strategies all use different tactics to do their best to predict which team is most likely to end up in each spot on the brackets. Contrastingly, this strategy couldn't care less about the relative likelihoods of different teams winning particiular games or the entire tournament. Instead, this approach attempts to optimize the bracket's chance of winning an NCAA pool. There are a few components to this:
    • Don't choose heavy favorites. Suppose that when filling out your bracket, you believed that there was a 50% chance that Duke would win the tournament (ridiculously high, but just suppose). Any of the other three strategies would most likely result in your bracket predicting that Duke wins the tournament. However, there's a good chance that, say, half of the people in your pool are also going to choose Duke. If Duke wins (50% of the time), the winner will come down to whoever picked the best in the other games throughout the tournament. Without (or even with) any sort of expert status in the realm of college basketball, I feel that success picking the early round games that end up deciding the "tiebreak" between people who chose Duke is more or less arbitrary. So, in a twenty person pool, your chance of taking first place is only 5%. In a larger pool, with more people picking Duke, the chance is even lower.
    • Aim for uniqueness. I suppose that this strategy is as much a social strategy as a game-theoretic strategy. For certain, it would break down if competing against other people using the same strategy. However, when in a pool with 'normal' people who are sure to be exposed to media reports of how Tennessee doesn't deserve a two seed or how Memphis is by far the worst number one seed, it's not too difficult to figure out which of the better teams (better seeds) in the tournament are unlikely to be picked by many people. Memphis might only have an 8% chance of winning the tournament (true odds were closer to 6.6% at tournament start according to Tradesports), yet if I'm the only person in the pool who picks them, I'm almost guaranteed to win the pool if Memphis wins the championship. Basically, this strategy takes advantage of the fact that a (relatively) small group of pool participants is often likely to overrepresent the favorites in their picks compared to the true odds.
    • Minimize what needs to go right. This point is really subsumed by the others, but I feel it's worth mentioning anyway. There's no point to making an entry that requires three Cinderella teams to reach the Final Four when you can just as easily pick a single Memphis-esque team to win the entire tournament. Why give yourself three unlikelihoods that need to go right when one will do?

The latter two strategies, of course, are not prescriptive for every spot in the brackets. Personally, I like to fallback on my irrational dislike of Big Ten and Big East schools combined with a soft spot for the ACC and Pac 10 in guiding the rest of my picks. Other people like to use uniform colors, mascots, or hometown weather conditions to pick these less meaningful games—whatever floats your boat...

1Raymond Chen's method doesn't count due to not being particularly "prevalent," though it is rather entertaining.

2 I've never actually been trained in game theory, or even read anything about it, so perhaps this strategy is poorly named. I'm pretty sure I've laid eyes at some point in my life on people who have taken game theory classes, though.

March 17, 2006

The Best Reason To Have Kids?

This morning, Lynn and I were driving from New Jersey out to Queens to visit Mom, Aunt Karen, Scott, Randi, and Julia. As we were driving by Shea Stadium on the Grand Central Parkway, the following conversation ensued:

Lynn: Let's go to Shea!
Lee: I don't think they'd let us in—.
Lynn: But I want to run the bases!
Lee: There probably aren't even any bases setup right now...
Lynn: When we have kids, we're going to bring them to do the Mets's [Dynamets] Dash.

(moment of silence)

Lynn: Will they let me run the bases with our kids?
Lee: Probably only if the kids are younger than a certain age.
Lynn: Well, then we're just going to have to continuously have kids so that we always have one young enough for me to run the bases with!

(I didn't point out to Lynn that she'd have a hard time enjoying her base-running perks if she's continuously pregnant.)

March 15, 2006

2004 Photo Album: One project down, many to go

I've been severely backlogged for months now on projects to do around the apartment. Whether it's been online poker (not recently), video games (Civ 4, Trackmania Nations, even Qindar), current television shows, TV season DVDs, or regular old work, I've consistently found procrastination sources that have prevented me from accomplishing photography projects, personal programming projects, cooking as much as I'd like, and other desirable hobbies.

I've finally finished one such project: an album that collects together my favorite photographs that I took in 2004. With Christopher and Martin's help, my digital image editing skills have progressed from utterly incapable to mostly incompetent, and I gathered almost thirty photos for inclusion in the album. As with the previous such album (covering photographs from 2003 and before), I ordered it as a Shutterfly photo book.

I now plan to return to writing about Lynn and my trip to Italy last August. Until then, here are a few of the pictures (unedited) that made the cut for the 2004 album. To see the rest, you'll have to come over to our home...

March 10, 2006

Scenes from the South of France

We discovered beforehand that Elias prefers the aisle while I yearn for a window seat. I could tell this would be a good trip.

With family, tourism, and a SPARQL calendar demo looming, naturally the plane flight from JFK to NCE featured dialogue on religion, morality, and child-rearing. While I demanded a "short nap", Elias attempted to watch the movie. Not a coincidence that against past trends, Elias slept, too.

Touchdown and touring. Twilight and a short hike through darkness, guided by Elias. On a hillside on the French-Italian border, a Venezuelan, Nicaraguan, and two Ecuadorans dance to Latin American music.

Artists on a hilltop evolve into souvenir shops on a hilltop. English-speaking French playing bocce1 on the sand. Handwritten menus and dinner conversations stretching into the night with a German banking Chairman, his wife, a Jewish grandmother from Long Island, and her husband. Complimentary mandarin grappa and heavenly chocolate cake. Feverish sleep.

Carnaval de Nice. The king burns; the sky awash with color; the rocky beach kissed by the waves. German beer at an Irish pub. Mint tea at a Moroccan bar. Live Brazilian music, American whiskey, and French youth dance Samba late into the night.

Semantic-web believers from Scotland, England, Belgium, Holland, and Paris-via-Japan-via-Maine share an elegant French dinner, resolve to rest for a year, and enjoy pizza in the village of Mandelieu.

In Nice, a lightweight tripod can commandeer aircraft.

1OK, so it was probably Pétanque, but I didn't realize that at the time.

March 5, 2006

On the Yankees, the WBC, and journalism

I'd like you to spend a moment reading this article. Go on, I'll wait.


Now, there are some serious (in a sports sense, that is to say VERY SERIOUS) issues raised by The Evil Emperor's objection to the WBC. We'd all shed an endless stream of tears should one of our favorite superstars—say, Alex Rodriguez—suffer an injury during the WBC that caused him to miss MLB playing time. But, for me at least, the real gems of this particular article are a bit more subtle:

  1. "The New York Yankess".
  2. The in-your-face implication by the unnamed AP journalist that the Yankees are winless through three spring training games because they are missing Jeter, Rodriguez, Damon, and Williams.
  3. The even-more-in-your-face implication that Bud Selig thinks that Vlad Guerrero is a weenie for bowing out of the WBC due to the deaths of his three cousins. Bud, you heartless thug, you.