Friday, October 21, 2005

Go Irish

Beat Cougars!!

This is Pretty Ridiculous

James Taranto (last item) pointed me to this article in the New York Times and this follow up article in the Boston Globe regarding Anheuser-Busch’s promotion of a “Bud Pong” game and their subsequent retrenchment in the face, apparently, of perceived public pressure.  What is going on here?  We see college administrators and the president of MADD saying that adults at bars are not able to take responsibility for their own actions.  

Are there lots of positive aspects to beer pong or any other drinking game?  Are their associated risks?  The answer to the first question is probably not many, but at least the individuals who participate have fun.  The answer to the second question is yes, but there are risks associated with any activity including sitting on the couch.  

It is sad to see Anheuser-Bush, Miller Brewing Company, and Coors Brewing Company all have so little faith in their customers’ ability to take personal responsibility for their actions.  It is sad that university administrators and advocacy groups want to limit the freedom of adults to make their own decisions about their personal conduct.  But most of all it is sad that A-B still has 50% market share because their product is terrible.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Book Reviews The Kings Depart

I just finished reading The Kings Depart: The Tragedy of Germany Versailles and the German Revolution by Richard M. Watt. The Kings Depart describes the people and events that influenced the end of World War I and its aftermath. This thoroughly researched story provides the reader with great insight into what events transpired as well as how and why they transpired. Watt certainly believes that each of the actor’s backgrounds, personalities, and interpersonal skills played an important part in these events. Before describing many of the events and interactions in this period, Watt provides bibliographic sketches of each of the important players such as Woodrow Wilson, Lloyd George, and Georges Clemenceau, as well as Friedrich Ebert Germany’s first socialist Chancellor. Watt uses each player’s biography to place their interactions with others and their reaction to events within the context of their lives. I have long believed that individuals have great power in influencing events so I really appreciated this mixing of biography and more classical history.

The Kings Depart certainly depicts a few battlefield conflicts, but more importantly it depicts the negotiations that lead to the Versailles Treaty and the Socialist Revolution in Germany. Watt clearly understands how negotiations work and did an excellent job of depicting each person’s individual negotiating style. In particular, Watt details Woodrow Wilson’s failure in his negotiations with George and Clemenceau over the form of the peace treaty, which ultimately reflected George’s and Clemenceau’s desire for revenge more than Wilson’s Fourteen Points. Watt attributes this to Wilson’s propensity to become mired in details, his refusal to delegate to his team, and ultimately his failing health.

The piece of history that I knew almost nothing about was the revolution that occurred in Germany once it became apparent that Germany would lose the war. Essentially almost every unit in the Imperial Army and Navy mutinied against their officers and took up the red flag of socialism and almost the entire country went on strike to protest rule by the Emperor. Watt describes the various states of anarchy that prevailed in many of Germany’s cities during this period and the various attempts that the government made to restore order. This story alone gives new meaning to the words order, discipline, and organization because it illustrates their polar opposite. Also interesting are the fissures that formed when the opposition Socialists found themselves actually running the government. These fissures formed between those who took responsibility to try to establish some sort of order and the true socialist believers whose concept of reality was actually utopian. In my lifetime, socialism has been more of a slur than a political ideology so this portion of the story helped to illustrate the various intellectual schools that once existed.

Finally and tragically, Watt describes the deep misgivings that many members of the allied parties had with the treaty that the Allies forced Germany to sign, Herbert Hoover and John Maynard Keynes among them. Of course everyone knows how this story ends, so Watt details Adolph Hitler’s periphery role in these events and how that setup his eventual rise to power.

Quote of the Day

Quote of the Day: “I will never understand the stupidity of people who turn their backs on the ocean.  People who have no knowledge of the danger the ocean threatens will walk right into it backwards while snapping pictures of the family.” Eddie Aikau quoted in Eddie Would Go: The Story of Eddie Aikau, Hawwiian Hero and Pioneer of Big Wave Surfing

I have been looking for this quote for some time and only found it today using Google Print.  Wes Smith, the Lieutenant in charge of Training for the OCBP drew my attention to this quote, which neatly summarizes how too many people treat the ocean.  Every year the ocean kills people; everyone needs to realize that.

I Hate Getting Passed

Most mornings I run for about six miles on a trail adjacent to the Charles River near my building in Boston.  Usually these runs are not that exciting, but this morning I actually have something to write about.  Near the beginning of my run, I heard a group of what I later realized were three runners behind me on the trail.  These guys were pretty quick and were running a little faster than I usually run by myself (unfortunately I have not been able to run with others much, which is slowing my pace).  I never like being passed on a running trail, but for some reason I felt particularly strongly about that this morning.  These guys pushed me for most of the three miles out before turning off the trail.  On the way back I was a little winded, which my chest cold did not help, so I probably slowed down somewhat.  Nonetheless, I ran this particular course about a minute faster than my previous best.  I am still struggling to get back into form, but the having those guys behind me on the way out certainly helped.  

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

College Football Championship

Each year, the champion of College football is determined through a system known as the Bowl Championship Series, which ranks the top college football teams and invites the top two teams to play for the championship. In addition six other highly ranked teams are invited to play in three other highly visible bowl games. Each year the BCS ranking system generates controversy over which two teams should play for the National Championship and which teams should play in the other three Bowl Games. Unfortunately this year Notre Dame appears to be getting a bad deal in these rankings. In addition to complaints and arguments about why a particular team should have a different ranking in the BCS poll, the controversy surrounding the BCS also brings calls for a playoff system to determining the National Champion (like this article, this post, and this comment among others). Unfortunately, a playoff system in College Football is just not feasible because it is a logistical nightmare.

The idea most often proposed is to hold a single elimination tournament with either the top four, eight, or even sixteen teams to ensure that every team with a legitimate shot at wining has the opportunity to prove that on the field. The models for this playoff system are the NFL’s playoff and NCAA Basketball’s Tournament. However there are significant differences between NCAA Division I College Football and the NFL and NCAA Basketball. These differences make a playoff system to determine the National Champion difficult if not impossible to implement.

Like college football, NFL teams play relatively few games (one per week) but there are relatively few teams in the league, which is split evenly into two conferences of four divisions each. So, in the NFL most teams play each other and all teams have common opponents. In college basketball, there are relatively many teams, but each team plays relatively many games including many conference tournaments. So, although many teams may not play each other, almost all teams at least have a few common opponents. In college football, there are relatively many teams, but each team plays relatively few games so very few teams play each other and very few teams even have common opponents. This fact makes it much more difficult to objectively seed a tournament in college football than in college basketball, or the completely objectively seeded NFL. These differences in and of themselves do not constitute an argument for or against a college football playoff, but they certainly place real constraints on the seeding issue.

NFL teams all play their games in stadiums that are physically located near major population centers so the majority of an NFL team’s fans can easily attend a game. In the NFL playoff system all games except for the Super Bowl are played at one of the two team’s home stadiums, which makes home field advantage an integral part of the playoff process. Home field advantage makes the complete objectivity of the playoff seeding critically important. In College Basketball, due to the somewhat less objective nature of the tournament seeding process all games take place in neutral stadiums so that neither team benefits from home field advantage. However, very few fans actually choose to attend these tournament games, likely due to time and travel requirements. The evidence of this is that either four or eight teams play their tournament games in the same arena over the course of a weekend and all tickets are good for at least two back-to-back games. This effectively means that fans from four or eight teams, who are in the area to watch their team also attend some of the other games, which helps fills the arena. If enough fans from the two teams playing the game were actually willing to attend each of the games there would be no need to sell a single ticket good for multiple games.

The seeding of a College Football tournament would likely be less objectively seeded than in College Basketball (certainly less objectively seeded than the NFL playoff), which would demand that all games take place at a neutral site*. Of the four BCS Bowls played in 2005, only three of the four actually had attendances higher than their capacity and all three of these Bowls were held in the week following New Years when many people have an opportunity to travel. Compared with the NCAA Basketball tournament venues, the BCS venues are huge with an average capacity of 78,000 vs. 22,000 at the Savvis Center, venue for the 2005 Final Four. Of course one of the reasons that so many people attend the BCS games is that each of these bowls was seen as the final game for the teams competing, making fans were eager to attend.

Although there is certainly interest in watching BCS bowl games, the facts of the NCAA basketball tournament make it doubtful that enough fans will be interested in attending a multiple week football tournament. The likely result of a multiple week college football tournament would be partially full stadiums for at least some of the games because fans would simply not be able to afford the financial and time costs of traveling each week. Solutions to this such as selling a single ticket to multiple games would probably not work because the longer duration of a football game – not many people would be willing to spend eight or nine hours in a stadium. A tournament would certainly be good for television networks, such as ESPN, but this would come at the expense of filling stadiums to near capacity.

A playoff system for College Football is not feasible and would likely represent a worse solution than the current BCS. Although the BCS certainly stirs up controversy, this controversy is an integral part of college football. College Football is and always has been a sport contested both on the field and in the press. Although determining an objective champion in College Football is a laudable goal, the realities of the sport and its fans make achieving this goal impossible. Instituting a playoff system would change the sport for the worse.

* (Although the NCAA Division III Football Champion is determined by a tournament in which most of the games are played at one of the team’s stadiums, all of these stadiums are much smaller, which limits the home field advantage. For example the stadium for the 2004 champions, Linfield only holds approximately 1760 spectators. Update: NCAA Division IAA also holds a playoff system. I found a website that lists the sizes of their stadiums here. With the exception of six schools all of these teams play at stadiums with less than 30,000 person capacities. So again, these playoffs are held at much smaller venues.)

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Sales Mistakes

I recently noticed two posts at Bizinformer regarding two of the most common sales mistakes ever made. Unfortunately, I have seen operational examples of both Failing to be Overt and Selling Past the Close in my short sales career. I agree that both of these are mistakes, but I disagree about their relative importance. Failure to be overt will immediately doom any sales engagement, while selling past the close is really just a matter of bad form.

The real issue when salespeople do not specifically ask their client if the client wants their services is the fear of hearing the word no. This fear paralyzes a salesperson in the engagement because they are not able to ask the appropriate questions to determine if they will reach a deal. This is absolutely detrimental in environments with long sales cycles because the salesperson, sales management, and the people in the business unit all have an unclear view of the client’s true intentions. Maybe the client is really interested, maybe he is really not interested, or maybe he is just talking to the salesperson to fill up his day, without overtly asking the client the important questions no one knows so everyone is wasting their time.

Failure to be overt sucks the life out of a sales engagement and causes everyone to waste time on a deal that may never materialize. Good sales people are not afraid to ask the tough questions and are prepared to change strategy and tactics if they learn that they are losing.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Babylonian Math

I never knew about this.  It turns out that the ancient Babylonians invented a sexagesimal number system, meaning that instead of counting to 10 they counted to 60.  This numbering system was more convenient for fractional calculations than a decimal system because the base (60) had more factors (2,3,4,5,6,10,12,15,20,30) than the base (10) in decimal (2,5).  This means that there are many more one digit fractions making division easier.  Another interesting source shows just how advanced their astronomy, trigonometry, and algebra were at such an early date.  

This site makes many of the same points but also illustrates the symbols that the Babylonians used to represent numbers from 1 to 59.  The interesting thing about looking their symbols is that it looks like they started with a base 10 numbering system and then expanded it to a base 60 numbering system.  Perhaps as they began doing calculations, they realized that they had too many infinite fractions and chose to change the base to reduce this.  For the new base they simply took the lowest common multiple of 2, 3, 4, and 5, which is 60.  If they wanted to include the next prime number, 7, they would have had to use base 420, which may have been unworkable.  So they compromised.  

The other interesting fact that I did not know was that the Greeks and Europeans carried on sexagesimal notation on through the fifteenth century for astronomical and mathematical calculations.  It seems strange to think that many people doing very advanced calculations just a few centuries ago were using a totally different numbering system than we use today.  It is also interesting that the vast majority of the population did not actually use the sexageseimal numbering system for calculations, but only an educated elite who needed to do complex calculations.  Nonetheless, sexagesimal notation was used for telling time, as there are sixty minutes in an hour and sixty seconds in a minute.  So, our conception of time is directly related to the numbering system invented by the Babylonians.

I am going to try to learn more about this.