What does it mean to be a "champion"?

The working title of this post was "Why I love football (round ball) and dislike football (pointy ball) and really should dislike them both".

The background of this is that, in general, I dislike events that depend significantly on luck or random chance. I suspect this sentiment may well be common among scientists, maybe particularly physicists, since I/we like to be able to know things, to predict things, or at least for things to be knowable or predictable (were there enough time to analyze the situation, take data, etc).

This is certainly the case when it comes to sports. Americans especially seem very fond of declaring one team to be "world champions", based upon some kind of playoff... but by its very nature a playoff increases the leverage that random chance plays, because of the smaller sample size. To my mind, the European soccer leagues handle the topic appropriately; each team plays every other team twice, once at home and once away, and the team with the best record at the end of the season is the champion. Not the #1 seed in the playoffs, because what's the point of the playoffs when you have demonstrated that you are the best team already?

March Madness is a brilliantly exciting construction, perhaps the best playoff system in terms of fan enjoyment, but does it do a good job of sorting out which is best team in college basketball? No way. The Super Bowl is an amazing showcase of the sport, but does the NFL playoff system properly sort out which is the best team that year? Sometimes, but often not. The World Series has great majesty and a nostalgic tradition that rolls back the decades, but it's a stupid way to crown a "champion" after the teams have already played 162 games - the very definition of a non-small sample size.

And now we come to the working title... not only does my rational/non-sports-fan side dislike playoff systems, but I dislike sports that themselves have outcomes for which randomness has strong significance, and the "meaningful moments" of a given game are few enough that the outcome of the game depends on a small sample size. A corollary to this is that I dislike sports for which the judgement of an official/referee can significantly influence the outcome.

Thus, I *should* like baseball (and I do), and cricket, and [what else?], and *should* dislike the NFL (it's love-hate), the NBA (referee arbitrariness), and soccer (but I love it). Really, I can't defend my love of soccer given the fact that the outcome of a given match depends on often no more than 3-5 referee decisions or other pivotal moments... but I do, even though I despise the NFL's volatility in the very same manner.

That's really all I got. I was curious to see if, as I wrote this, whether I arrived at any kind of conclusion, but it hasn't arrived yet. Anybody else able to help me out?

  

Oooh, shiney!

So, about a month ago K decided that she really needed to get a new laptop, after a few months of shopping around and pondering different options. I lobbied for the soon-to-be updated MacBook Pro, and so last Thursday or whenever it was (two weeks ago? wow), we went over to our friendly Apple store to pick one up.

For future reference, if you ever need to receive immediate help from multiple Geniuses, half an hour before close on a random weeknight is a great option. I counted 12 employees to three customers, counting the two of us. Anyway, it was pretty exciting to buy something the first day it was released... I felt very tall and Nathaniel-like.

Oh, and the MBP itself? sa-weet. Even the low-end 13" has two i5's and is nice and speedy, and while we don't yet have anything to plug into the make-USB3-look-slow "Thunderbolt" port, I feel like my efficiency jumps just by being near the thing.

  

Square meat-like product

Apparently when people don't post to the blog much, the spammers compensate for our lack of attention*.

That said, a bunch of the comments are kinda funny, or at least better than the usual penis-enlargement and penny-stock subjects.

* correlation clearly equals causation.

  

What price market share?

Without a doubt, the big AAPL news of the week has concerned the announcement that Steve Jobs is taking a medical leave of absence (not accidentally timed to take advantage of MLK day to reduce/avoid a huge market selloff). Companies can have good CEOs and bad CEOs, but the COS (Cult of Steve) is so strong that this second medical "vacation" has prompted all sorts of "can Apple survive" chatter both on the interwebs and on the older kind of tubes, the TV kind.

While I think that Tim Cook will do just fine, both in the interim and when Jobs eventually steps aside, Steve's guiding vision for Apple cannot be overstated. Design of individual devices aside, one key aspect of the Steve Jobs Apple has been to prioritize quality above quantity, to prefer to make awesome computers (Macs, Mac Pros, Macbooks, etc) that get 10% market share, compared to pumping out a piece of shit frankensoft hodgepodge of bloatware and inconsistent-quality hardware with a monopolistic market share. Apple has generally itself avoided being an early adopter; instead of debuting a piece of technology ahead of its peers competitors losers, Jobs prefers to let other companies suffer through the development stage and then release a far superior and better-conceived device.

In light of the above, I think this note today, that (based on revenue) Apple is now the world's largest mobile phone vendor, is especially interesting given the timing of Steve's absence. Does this mean that, for the iPhone at least, Apple can no longer be content to sit back and enjoy strong margins on 10% of the market? Or, with Steve possibly out of the picture, will Cook et al have the discipline to "stay true" to the Apple brand and avoid "slumming"? I actually don't think this is a problem since the cost of a Blackberry + iPod is comparable to an iPhone, unlike the false choice of cheap PC vs expensive MacBook, but I do have to think that becoming the dominant "cell phone" maker could lead to unforeseen difficulties down the road. What's next after the iPad?

Oh, and while we're riffing on TUAW posts, this is pretty sweet:

  

Trade-offs

Quick, look down at your ring finger (if you have a y chromosome). How does its length compare to that of your first/index/pointer finger? That length ratio can tell you things, but in the end you may wish you'd not read this post.

Several different studies have correlated the length ratio of ring/index fingers to certain health and/or personality characteristics, generally as a result of in-utero testosterone exposure levels, including athletic ability, aggression/lack of generosity, aptitude for math, heart disease, earning power, and more recently, an increased chance of prostate cancer.

See, there, now don't you feel better? Stupid science. I'd much rather at least the illusion of free will. 🙂