Numbers

#1
Numbers

Since it's now the off season for the Kings, I have a TDOS-type story to share. I'm sure the grand finale will boggle some minds. I'm posting it now since I feel I owe the forum a mea culpa. First, however, the Infomercial:

( ... violins ...) Hi, my name is 63royals, and I'm here to tell you that it's possible to live a rich and fulfilling life, despite my terrible handicap. You see, I don't have a Facebook account. Or a Twitter account. Not even Instagram. I realize many people are wondering how I could even have a reason to live without social media. I can can assure you that I'm doing just fine, thank you very much. (... fadeout of 63 royals dialing on his rotary phone ...)

I have some rather substantial blind spots since I don't do social media. I have a general idea, of course, and I really appreciate the fine folks on this forum who find the gems among the sludge and post links. I've found it's very important to learn the jargon in any new environment. It took me a while to figure out that "my position is based on facts and theirs is based on Internet nonsense" means "don't poke the troll". Then I learned that "how come truth and nonsense are on equal footing" also means "don't poke the troll". That's how my name ended up on the most recent thread to get hijacked about last summer's draft. Sorry about that -- I think I've got it now.

It occurred to me recently (when I was counting to 10 before hitting Send) that sports arguments are completely different than they were when I was young, and metrics is one of the main reasons. At college in the early 70's at Princeton, I took some classes from people who were like the Wright Brothers of metrics. Computers were just beginning to make their way into the social sciences. It was way too soon to do anything useful yet. The focus was on how can you measure things; what complex calculations are now possible; what additional software and hardware would be needed to do what we envision, etc. It was like two tin cans and a string compared to modern telecommunications systems, but you have to start somewhere. The significance of the Wright Brothers' airplane is that it was the great idea that everyone's been improving on ever since. This was like that, but it was happening in many places.

I was a Politics major, and my senior thesis was basically on how could you use a computer study to measure the effect of newspapers (today you'd say media, of course) on voting. [NOTE: If you're reading this, then the moderators agree that I can say I studied politics as long I don't go any farther than that, and not violate site rules. I understand that the moderators have a crack team of ninjas with flyswatters on call in case there are problems.]

I presume some would be interested in hearing in detail what stone age computing was like. I am also well aware that too much detail and/or too much tech talk makes some peoples' eyes tend to glaze over (like my wife, for example). I have set aside some tech info in the next post for those who are interested, and to save others from the need to run screaming from the room. I was thinking, for example, that someone who's under 40, does data analysis in their job, and likes horror movies, might be entertained. ;)

I've been interested in the use and misuse of statistics all my life. In my career as a software developer, I followed the evolution of the hardware and software that now makes it possible to do so much amazing analysis. If I have a pet peeve about statistics these days, it's people who use statistics to support pre-conceived opinions, which they usually get from social media. There was an awful lot of that from the pro-Doncic forces. If Moneyball was about seeing things with metrics that are missed by the eyeball test, this was the reverse -- Yes I know that Doncic has amazing numbers, but my eyeball test tells me that Doncic wouldn't fit with the style of the current team. I would sum it up like this:

First, Grasshopper, you must learn what the numbers can teach you.
Then, you must learn what the numbers can hide from you.

Since my senior thesis was about the influence of newspapers on public opinion, I included in the preface the story of an incident from sophomore year. In the student center, a man had put his books on a table and gone in to get some food. When he got back to the table, he found a newspaper there. Soon he was waving the paper and ranting at the top of his lungs "You're being controlled by forces you don't understand !!!" So ... does anyone who's seen A Beautiful Mind want to hazard a guess as to who that was? Yes, I'm sure it was John Nash. My wife and I met when I was a senior -- she was working in the university library. A co-worker pointed out and warned her about the guy who goes across campus talking to himself. Plus there was this from my academic calendar:

Spring Term 1970
Math 201
McCosh Hall
Mr. Nash

Yeah, I took a class from him. Here's the challenge for anyone over 40: Think of something that happened 30 years ago that didn't seem terribly important at the time. Now, try to remember EVERYTHING about it. It drove me crazy at times. I had what I like to think is one of the all-time 'Holy Bleep' moments when the movie came out in '99. I wasn't sure until the DVD had a picture of Russell Crowe with the real John Nash. Sure enough, there was my old math teacher! It took a while to realize that he was also the guy I'd written about in the preface to my thesis. The incident in the student center took place about a year after the class, and I was more focused on the ranting than what he looked like. It wasn't until the movie came out that I I had any reason to look for a connection.

I will never forget the last day of class before spring break (in March '70). I needed to get a bus to the airport to get home, and I wouldn't have time to stay through the whole class. Since the classroom was near the bus stop, at the top of a hill, and my dorm was down the hill, I brought my suitcase to class and figured I could sneak out half way through. However, I was the only one who showed up for class. I spent some time berating myself for being the only loser who didn't get out of town earlier, and then some time getting freaked out because I was going to have to interrupt him. Meanwhile, his demeanor was no different from when the room was full. When I interrupted him to stammer out sorry I have to go, he was fine with it -- just said "Oh, OK", gathered his stuff, and left without looking at me again. Once I calmed down, I did too.

Of course the important thing I did NOT think about that day was that I was getting a personal one-on-one class from a guy who was going to be famous in 30 years. Nobel Laureate ... subject of an award-winning movie ... an inspirational figure. The lesson I always have remembered is that just because you don't see anything special in someone doesn't mean there isn't anything there -- maybe we just haven't found out yet.

In closing, since this is a Kings site, I want to mention my other favorite learning experience from college -- 4 years of the Pete Carril seminars on the proper way to play basketball (and my first year, Geoff Petrie was captain of the team). Watching them beat teams with much more talent, by playing team basketball. A true joy to experience, and the reason basketball is my favorite sport. I always thought if Pete had comparable talent he could beat anyone. Here in Sacramento, that was proven true, and Pete got to be here as Yoda -- almost perfect, except for that championship we should have won. My 56th season as a Royals / Kings fan was one of my favorites. I'm really excited about the 57th. Go Kings!
 
#2
*** Hazardous text warning ***
This post contains the kind of things that programmers talk about when everyone else is out of the room. If your eyes start to glaze over, please stop reading!


There were no silicon chips yet, so the computer had lots of vacuum tubes, with the resultant heat problems, and was probably no more powerful than the laptop I'm typing on right now. No PC's for another 10 years, so there was a lot I could only do at the computer center. Automated sources of standard data of interest to researchers, like census and election data, was a fantastic idea that was not yet technologically feasible. I had to get everything out of paper files and microfilm of paper files.

The only way to get my data to the computer was via punch cards. There wasn't an easy way to look at the cards to see if I got the columns right, other than submitting a 'print this deck' job. Put a couple of control cards in front of the deck and submit the deck at the window to get the job run (since they had to submit it for me). Then, wait for the deck and the printout to be returned.

The software would fit a line to the data points and then produce a report of standard statistics about the data, plus a diagram. The diagram, on green bar computer paper, used * for the data points and / and _ to render the line. One of many examples of why one of the major efforts at the time was to assess how the current technology was inadequate.

There wasn't any way to save the data file anywhere so I could just reference it each time I wanted to use the data. I had to submit all of it with each job. Since there was nothing like multitasking, the time I had to wait for my results depended on what else the computer was up to, which varied from almost immediately to all night when it was tracking the skies for the observatory. I had a 1200-card deck with a few control cards in front of it. If I wanted to tweak a couple of parameters and re-run something, I had to replace a couple of control cards and then re-submit the entire deck to the desk. That deck was a way-too-constant companion while I was doing my computer research. If I had fallen in a lake I would have been in big trouble. I think I still have that deck buried in a closet somewhere, so I could do the 'Muah ha ha' thing at it one more time.

So ... 2 tin cans and a string. The nightmares about being chased by punch card machines, mercifully, have stopped. :D
 
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VF21

#KingsFansForever
Staff member
#3
Ah the good ol' days. Stacks and stacks of trays of punch cards sitting outside data entry waiting to be fed to the machines.
 

Warhawk

The cake is a lie.
Staff member
#4
I think I still have that deck buried in a closet somewhere, so I could do the 'Muah ha ha' thing at it one more time.
My dad brought home a couple of punch cards for me when I was a kid (he did budget analysis for the State of California way back when) - I think they are still around here somewhere! Hmmm, wonder where those are now....