Sunday, November 27, 2011

Something Else I've Noticed...

[Editor’s Note: This columnist often tends to write about certain made-up laws, theories, innovations or effects as if they are full-proof and have been vigorously researched and verified.  Please note that he has not found any evidence to support these theories, nor does he intend to.]
             The Christmas Eve Effect, or as I have been wanting to call it, the Christmas Eve-MOA Effect, is named after the first time my brother and I went to the Mall on the last day of shopping before that holiday the majority of us Americans refer to when we say ‘Happy Holidays’.  Of course everyone told us- Are you kidding? It’s going to be so crazy down there!
To our surprise, it wasn’t.  In fact, there were probably fewer people than usual when we go to the Mall.  But as we realized, there was a perfectly logical explanation for it- so many people were afraid that the Mall was going to be packed, that all those people were noticeably absent.  Granted, there are several other reasons for not going to there on C-Eve.  There are many fewer sales, less stock of the products many people want, and probably many employees who just aren’t happy to be there.  But the lack of hustle-and-bustle more than makes up for that.
(I’ve really realized that it is indeed the thought that counts.  I know that I am about the seven millionth person to say that, but I truly think more people could save more money just by thinking more about what their loved ones would actually want.  Imagine how that simple philosophy could help the economy if everyone did just get to know their loved ones more.  Or follow the Games by James Method™.  Just read the last paragraph here.)
I’m not necessarily encouraging always going to the Mall that late in the shopping season, as I usually do, but I merely wanted to shed some light on how not all supposedly super-busy things are going to be that bad.  Another example: this past summer, the Greater Los Angeles area was all prepared for an even they were calling Carmageddon.  I-405, their major freeway, was undergoing major construction, down to one lane each way through most of the metro.  But as it was recapped to yours truly via Twitter and the B.S. Report podcast, it didn’t turn out to be much of anything, mostly due to everyone living in fear of driving at all on that weekend.
To go out on a huge limb here, I predict that this is exactly how the whole Social Security fiasco is going to play out.  As SS was always just intended to be a safety net, NOT A RETIREMENT PLAN, that’s what people will end up treating it as again.  Maybe they will invest, get confidence in the economy, and have their nest eggs saved up for when they do retire.  Or maybe they (and when I say they, I definitely am referring to my generation) will postpone or get rid of retirement completely. Hey, people are living longer and looser, so that could catch on.  I just think that with as much as the prognosticators are frantic about it, Social Security might not become as big of a deal as they are worried it will.  But I’m no economist.
A couple caveats for this theory, though.  People don’t tend to follow this trend when they have either already paid for something, or they plan to.  You won’t want to waste a lot of gas on a freeway, but money is a much more tangible measurement of loss.  Example: The line for Pirates of the Caribbean 3 was wrapped all the way around the Rosedale Mall.  It was filled with people who had paid for their tickets, so there was no way they were going anywhere.  Also, this theory only holds as long as the masses don’t find out.  Therefore, the activity/event can go on a wavy sine-graph of usage, simply because of how busy people perceive its usage.  So don’t let word get out when you do find the Effect at work!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

My Lastest Friend-quation

“I am insane,” I told Mike, as he walked into class. “Lemme show you why.”
We then proceeded to have a ten minute tutorial and subsequent discussion about the new “Friend-quation” I came up with while at work.  I thought it was appropriate to discuss with him, as one of the situations this applies to involved him.  And by the time we were done-
“You are insane,” Mike agreed.
The idea for the equation came from me remembering three similar situations I remembered I had run into within about the past two months.  This particular situation, however, is probably somewhat common among people my age, too, who have formed a different group of friends in college, or at work than those they knew in high school.  And yet, as you will come to see, this doesn’t necessarily even have to involve a close group of friends.  All you really need are acquaintances.
So what do you do when you are with one group of your current friends and you encounter someone at a place that you haven’t seen for a while?  That’s where my equation comes in.  This equation quantifies, in a very loose sense, all the factors that go into how much time you actually spend with the friends you haven’t seen for a while over the friends you do.  This is not to say that you even have to leave those friends you were hanging out with. But if they have other friends in the area, this might be a good opportunity for them to go catch up with them, while you catch up on the good old times with your new friends.
We have to create a few variables in order for this to apply.  The first one is pretty basic: how long has it been since you’ve seen them.  The number I came up with I call Life Units.  It is about three years, which seems to me about the time, at least in, let’s say, the ages between 18 and 34, how long it will take the average person to move on to a new phase in their lives.  You go to College for four years, you might have the same job right after that for two- maybe you get married, have kids.  The time in between each of those new phases, based on complete hunches absolutely no statistical evidence, has been calculated to about three years.  But of course, if there are any oldsters reading this for some reason, let’s say that number increases to ten years by the time you’re fifty.
The next variable tries to answer the question, How much better friends with these guys are you than the people you’re hanging out with?  In many cases the answer might be: you’re not.  But the domain of this function is going to have to be pretty small.  Let’s call it “10 less than or equal to ‘x’ less than or equal to 40.”  If these are people you would spend less than ten minutes talking to, the equation almost doesn’t apply.  If it’s more than 40- well, why aren’t you just completely ditching your new friends to hang with your old friends for the night?  So never mind- if you could just quantify your friendship with these old friends into a number between 1 and 3 (included), I think that will suffice.  If you are just as good a friends with the other people, but you still want to hang out with the people who “friend-prised” you, I don’t know how to calculate that.
Let’s just leave it at that.  Basically, add these two numbers, multiply by ten and that’s about how long you should be able to spend with these old friends without feeling guilty that you left your new friends.  In the rough outline of this friend-quation, there were other factors that I could not turn into numbers.  Factors such as, Is there anyone in New Group you just met who you do not care to hang out with- the “Detractors”, or Is this a bigger surprise to see them here than it would be elsewhere?  As I was thinking about this, however, I’m reminded of this character from Douglas Adam’s Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy sequel, The Restaurant at the End of the Universe.  This smart old dude teaches his younger companions that while he can do complex equations in his head regarding smart stuff like rocket science, they are doing many equations (which apparently he can’t do) every time they catch a ball.  They just come naturally.  I can catch a ball. But sometimes I’m interested in the equations it takes to catch one, too.  And sometimes I like to make equations to explain other things that in many ways should come naturally.
Still not convinced I’m insane.  Try here.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Solutions from Across the Pond

            I believe most of us have concluded at this point that the BCS has been a bad idea.  First of all, the name is deceptive.  As there is only one game in the “Championship Series” is makes no more sense than calling the Super Bowl a series.  But more than that, it just doesn’t allow for any true champion to be crowned in the American way.  What is the American way?  Playoffs, of course.  Every other major sport in America has some form of playoffs to determine their champion. Whether even these are all completely necessary remains a mystery- why, for example, does Major League Baseball play 162 games to still allow 8 teams into the playoffs (and soon to be 10, from the sounds of it)?  No, the BCS’s strategy of crowning a champion is most similar to the British way.  And so, if anything, I’m starting to think it isn’t going far enough.  In fact, American sports in general could learn a thing or two from it.
What I mean by this first comparison is of course that the Premier League for association football in that country does not have any playoffs.  Each team plays each other twice, and whichever team is at the top of the standings at the end of the season wins.  That’s it.  Oh, sure, they have middle-of-the-season tournaments.  But they’ve all just decided that the champion was whoever could beat all the other teams most consistently.  This is what college football needs to figure out for itself.  They might have too many teams to do this in exactly the same way, but there’s another way English football worked around this problem, too.  A couple things called promotion and relegation.  The country has so many teams that they have decided to just put the best ones in the best league, and so on.  But we in America do have one disadvantage in being able to pull this off.  As a much bigger country, it would be hard to have a country-wide league in which everyone plays everyone.  American football is too demanding of a sport to have more than eleven or twelve regular-season games at that age.  But that’s why it would be easy to just form about four major regional leagues that each regional champion of a designated lower league could be promoted to in time.  Then the NCAA could just set up a plus-one situation between these four leagues.  It’s very meritocratic, and we would really get a true National Champion out of it.  But, in all honesty, that very situation is exactly what seems to be happening (albeit, de facto) with all the ridiculous conference realignment.  Is it a fair assumption to say that the Big Ten, Pac-12, SEC and ACC are going to be those major conferences?
By doing what the NCAA is doing with the “Football Bowl Subdivision” in order to determine a National Champion is also somewhat half-assed and in some ways they are admitting they need a playoff.  Just having the two best teams in a one-game playoff essentially undercuts all the sweat-equity those hard-working computers did to determine which team is the best.  If you were truly confident that you had the best team in the nation figured out, what is even the point of having a national championship game?  Err, this was the team that the computers told us was the best, but let’s try them against the second best just to be sure… So if they lose to the second-best, who’s to say the second-best wouldn’t have lost to the third best?  The whole system is undermined by any implication that a national champion still needs to be determined after the regular season.  I think, if they’re going to stick with the BCS, let’s stick it in their craw by saying No National Championship Game.  Oh sure, you could still have bowls, but maybe the top two teams don’t play each other.  Then we could have one of those hilarious situations like back in the day where the Gophers were proclaimed Nat’l Champs and then proceeded to lose in the Rose Bowl Game.
Baseball could even learn from our chums across the pond.  The possibility of relegation has already been brought up for baseball (and this is still somewhat doable, if only on a smaller scale), but I think there are a couple drawbacks to the way the sport is set up that should be scaled back a little bit.  Let’s say MLB is far and away the largest stage for baseball in the world- the equivalent of the European Champions League in soccer.  If that’s the case, they really need to scale back the season and streamline the playoffs.  One hundred forty-eight games is, I believe, the longest the season could be in still maintaining some efficiency.  In my opinion, the playoffs should go back to just two teams from each league, but let’s say that isn’t going to happen.  I’ve always really admired the way European clubs run the “knock-out” stages of their tournaments.  They play two games, a “home and home”, and whoever has the most goals at the end of those two games wins!  Why wouldn’t this work in baseball, if say, they needed one extra round for that second wild card they’re talking about adding?  The team with the better record could just pick the game they wanted to host, and then you would need extras in at most the second game.  Aside from that, I think American football really has its shit figured out.  But don’t even get me started on hockey and baseball, and their messed up playoff formats.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Planets of the Republic

            When I had a conversation with my buddy Dylan about the greatest cities of the Midwest, I didn’t really think I would have to defend the relevance of Minneapolis, especially as it pertains to Chicago.  Chicago is a great city, and for someone not from Minnesota, I can’t expect to convince him of the clear, but less-than-widely-know superiority of the Twin Cities.  For purposes of this blog post, I am not even entertaining arguments of St. Paul, because Minneapolis is clearly better, but I will call them the Twin Cities for purposes of this argument.
            The main argument is that Minn- er, the Cities are allowed to have an inferiority complex as it pertains to their big brother, the Second City.  TC is smaller, for sure, but it’s really not the size- it’s how you use it.  And we use it well.  But Chicago is a comically large city.  If you look at some scenes from the first Batman Begins movie, the city of Gotham looks legitimately three times the size of New York.  There is obviously no Gotham City, but in case you didn’t know, many scenes from The Dark Knight were filmed in Chicago.  I believe all of it was.  But the comparability of the fictional Gotham and the Windy one should lend credence to my theory.  Chicago is just too big.  It has two major league baseball teams, for crying out loud!  It might as well be two cities- and no Milwaukee, you cannot be Chicago Jr.  You just suck.
            The Twin Cities are not only a perfect size, but we have the perfect structure.  We picked one less-good city in which to put the government, the old people and the niche sports team.  But those are all things cities need.  The better city has the hip downtown, uptown and college campuses, as well as the more advanced transportation system (for now).  But while St. Paul does have some more cultural landmarks and destinations, MPLS has those things that are not necessary, but still great for a city to have- an uptown, the Greenway, Minnehaha Park & Fort Snelling and three more sports teams that are actually successful.  To be fair to Bloomington, that city is starting to hold its own in our metro area.  The Mall is pretty sweet and it almost has a legitimate downtown.  Probably better than St. Cloud, anyway.
            But we actually hold an important relationship with Chicago and that’s undeniable.  We are, as I was telling Dylan.  One of the last cities of our size until we get to the coast.  If the United States was the Galaxy Far, Far Away from Star Wars, the Twin Cities would be Naboo.  Which would make, say, Denver Tattooine.  And the west coast are all planets that have been claimed by the Rebel Alliance.  Or something like that.  But you just don’t get the same kind of relationships among the large cities of the mountain time zone.  Each one was founded off some resource that was abundant and can really support a contained economy.  If the U.S. is playing the board games Settlers of Catan, they may have all just put their settlement on a Six and nothing else.  Denver has its Ore, Phoenix has its Heat and Salt Lake apparently has God.  Which is good for them, I suppose.  But Minneapolis/St.Paul is on thirteen dots next to a three-for-one port.  (I’m sorry if you haven’t played this game.)  I think the important point is that we should definitely make the Eastern U.S., everything east of St. Cloud as well as the West Coast should become one country, and leave the western frontier to wither in the abyss.