Sunday, November 30, 2008

End of World Looming? India Says "Perhaps"

LUBBOCK (not India), Texas -- A disturbing column in the New York Times forwarded to me from doctoral student Wendy Maxian makes me think that the next aluminum foil-headed prognosticator might be right.

As former friends continue to face layoffs in journalism, I cannot help but cringe over local news being staffed from a continent away.
I checked in with one of his workers in Mysore City in southern India, 40-year-old G. Sreejayanthi, who puts together Pasadena events listings. She said she had a full-time job in India and didn’t think of herself as a journalist. “I try to do my best, which need not necessarily be correct always,” she wrote back. “Regarding Rose Bowl, my first thought was it was related to some food event but then found that is related to Sports field.”
It was once written that all politics are local. I never imagined that the corollary would be that no journalism is local.

The only way this works is if newspapers (whatever form they will take) are some sort of cheap aggregators, and all genuinely local information comes from blogs.

In which case, even a hack coder such as myself can probably write a better program to aggregate news -- and do so more cheaply than $7.50 per thousand words.


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Monday, November 24, 2008

Bill Snyder a Wildcat Once More

For all the other problems in the world, my life is one of complete joy today. Bill Snyder is once again the head coach of the K-State Wildcats.

Welcome back, Mr. Snyder. We have missed you dearly.

This is an awesome day, and I'm wearing purple!

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Sunday, November 23, 2008

Gambling, Punting, and Unnecessary Risk

I enjoy listening to sports radio, but I have not done so often lately. I have preferred the quiet to the talk.

When I do listen, I notice that they spend quite a bit of time talking about betting on sports. That's wasted on me. I'm not a gambler. Moreover, the entire idea of gambling is foreign to me.

We live in West Texas, and I drive to New Mexico a couple of times per year. Usually around Roswell we see a billboard for Powerball lottery. Texas is not a Powerball state, so the jackpot amount usually is a surprise. When it's large, we usually drop a dollar.

People call the lottery a tax on people who are bad at math, but I would argue that these are exactly my kind of odds. I won't miss the dollar, and I'd be a lot better off with an extra $200 million. So spending an extra $3 a year is no trouble.

Conversely, doubling my money holds almost no interest. Whatever spare money I have has a purpose. And losing it for no good reason seems, well, stupid. And doubling it won't buy me a new house, a new car, or anything I really want. Thus the risk-reward ratio is quite poor.

This guiding principle extends to sports. I love Big Ten football. Woody Hayes. Three yards and a cloud of dust. And although I enjoy watching Texas Tech football, it is against my entire nature. I would have made a boring football coach.

I believe Jim Tressel when he says that the punt is the most important play in football. I believe that defense does win championships. I grew up watching Marty Schottenheimer's Kansas City Chiefs win 16-13 slugfests.

There's nothing like a tenacious defense and an ability to run the ball. You can close out games.

Last night, watching the Red Raiders get pummeled by Mobilehoma, coach Mike Leach's propensity to go for it on fourth down failed. Giving such a skilled opponent a short field was extremely costly.

This itself is an interesting study in risk. If you've ever played video game football, you occasionally find yourself ahead late in the game trying to protect a lead. Faced with certain defeat, your opponent is forced to repeatedly go for it on fourth down.

In my experience, this is almost impossible to defend. It seems that so much of football is designed to keep most runs short. So for the entirety of the game, holding your opponent to three straight 3-yard runs spells victory. They punt on 4th and 1.

However, nursing a 3 point lead with 2:30 to go, your opponent is going to try for that yard every time. And it's incredibly effective.

Yet so few take this gamble when it's not absolutely necessary. Imagine how difficult it would be to stop a team with a solid running attack and play action passing that always went for it on fourth and short. I'm not saying it would be effective in the long run, but I would hate to defend it.

In the end, it's a function of probabilities, and a well executed punt has better odds.

And these coaches are gambling with millions of dollars: their lucrative contracts.

Which brings us back to the entire issue of gambling.

Although I don't have the patience to fact check this, ESPN radio's Colin Cowherd said this week that sports gambling increases when the economy is bad. When you and your family need the money the most, you're most likely to flush it away.

In our lab, we spend a lot of time studying appetitive and aversive processes. Good things feel good, and bad things feel bad. This is universal. But for some people, good things feel so good that risks are ignored. And for others, bad things feel so bad that no risk is tolerable.

To me, gambling is simply a function of appetite and aversion. I don't have a high tolerance for risk, so it logically follows that I am not much of a gambler. But it also explains why people might be more likely to gamble during times of economic strife.

Imagine that you're a little bit hungry, but you'd have to run across a busy highway to get food. You probably would sit out the human Frogger. Now imagine that you're starving. No amount of traffic would prevent you from risking the highway. Eat or die. So the traffic does not increase your risk.

Perhaps you need that extra $100 so bad that you cannot see the folly of losing the $100 you do have.

So Las Vegas remains a mystery to me. It's a monument built to a god that I just don't understand.

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Saturday, November 22, 2008

Some Late November Observations

  • It seems as if we have been three weeks from the end of the semester for an eternity. It truly will never end.
  • We're doing several faculty searches, which has me looking toward the future and what this place should look like.
  • The quality of applications suggests that we have turned a corner at Texas Tech.
  • It's exciting that really good people want to be here.
  • My office is once again a complete wreck. It's embarrassing that I have three desks covered several inches deep in papers and books.
  • I really enjoy my colleagues. I feel lucky to work in a great place.
  • They call Twitter microblogging, and it has certainly harmed my macroblogging.
  • Thanksgiving is scheduled at a really annoying time.
  • Data analysis always beats writing. Unless, of course, that writing is blogging.
  • My life was better before Facebook and MySpace.
  • I wish that my e-mail would go into a secret folder on my BlackBerry so that I could see it when I wanted to without being forced to deal with it.
  • I'm not going into the office today. First Saturday in as long as I can remember.
  • I will still be working from home.
  • I'm the happiest I have been in late November in as long as I can remember.
  • No matter how great your kids and spouse, you can eventually test their patience with consecutive 12 hour days.
  • You've been working too much when your four-year-old asks you if you've been out-of-town.
  • I have no idea what I want to teach in Fall 2009. It may seem silly, but I have to decide relatively soon, and I am completely conflicted.
  • My wife and I are long overdue to go out to dinner alone.
  • Long overdue.
  • We've had dinner along like once in the past year.
  • I'm nostalgic for K-State football and Indiana basketball.
  • Despite the fact that both sucked/will suck this year.
  • A week from now, I will be in New Mexico, which is one of the best parts of living in Lubbock.


Sunday, November 16, 2008

Writing My First Book Update

I thought that I'd take a moment this Sunday morning to share my progress on the textbook I am helping to write.

A lot of people want to write a book, so I thought perhaps this might be of interest. Emphasis on might.

The book is an undergraduate textbook on research methods in advertising and public relations.

My real life continues to get in the way, so I am quite a bit behind schedule. I worked on the book for about 7 hours yesterday. The project of the day was a riveting chapter on data tabulation.

If it were simply a matter of sitting down and writing, it would be one thing. But data tabulation, as one might imagine, involves tables. So most of the day was spent making tables. Seven tables and one figure.

I could have simply made up data. However, being a scientist, hypothetical data is an allergen. So I found a national dataset and spent much of the day mining through the codebook for examples that have at least a chance of being relevant to advertising and public relations students.

As a side note, I have a newfound respect for all examples in textbooks.

Once I found a suitable example, the data were analyzed in statistical program SPSS, and then I could make the tables.

Today will represent another 8 hours on the project. I'll spend an additional hour or so on data tabulation, and then it is on to the fascinating world of quasi-experiments.

In many ways, the work is quite rewarding. In other ways, it is quite frustrating. This type of writing is unlike my journalism training, and it is vastly different from the scientific writing that takes much of my time these days.

And I am writing a little bit more than a quarter of the textbook. This will be a little bit of a rush in a quarter of a year. Thus, the entire thing would have been a rush in a year.

This gives me even more respect for those who can produce quality works far more quickly, including a colleague at Texas Tech.

I'm thankful to have the experience. I've always wanted to write a book. As a child, I'd sit around my parents' advertising agency fabricating books. Long before the days of desktop publishing, I was fascinated by the blank books you could buy at a bookstore. So much waiting to be said.

So I'm glad to know just how much work really goes into it.

This would be a lot more fun if I were writing about an area of research about which I care intensely. Instead, this is serving a need. And as with all things, satisfying wants is more fun thatnneeds.

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Friday, November 14, 2008

Olbermann on Gay Marriage: Genius


Sunday, November 09, 2008

These Are a Few of My Favorite Things

I am a hopeless pack rat. Parting is not sweet sorrow.

Yesterday my wife unpacked a couple of pint glasses from the Blue Corn Cafe & Brewery in Santa Fe, N.M. They don't look at all like the ones shown on the Web site.

I found them when I unloaded the dishwasher today.

These particular pints date back to the weekend after my college graduation from New Mexico State in 1997.

It was a great trip ... especially because it was such an exciting time of adventure and things to come.

I don't drink out of them much. But I sure like having them. Seeing them upside down in the dishwasher today caused a great rush of positive affect and nostalgia. It was a great moment on a day that I woke up sick.

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Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Don't Watch TV for Results, Try Twitter

Watching the election returns last night, I consistently had faster results on Twitter than any of the TV networks.

Go social media!

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