Thoughts on Cormac McCarthy's novel "The Passenger"

November 26, 2022

The Passenger is Cormac McCarthy’s new novel, his first since 2006’s The Road. Having long been an admirer of McCarthy’s work (his 1985 western Blood Meridian probably ranks among my five or so favorite novels of my lifetime-to-date as a reader), I eagerly preordered a copy.

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The most marginally rewatchable movie?

July 9, 2022

I think the quality of a movie is highly correlated — but not perfectly correlated — with how rewatchable the movie is. There are great movies that I never want to watch again (Raging Bull, A Separation) and there are lesser movies that I find difficult to turn off once I catch a snippet (yes, the Austin Powers trilogy…).

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Thoughts on Philip Roth's "American Pastoral"

June 15, 2022

I’ve long admired the writing of Philip Roth. Though I’ve read ten of his novels, it somehow took me until this year to pick up what many regard as his finest work, American Pastoral, but like dessert it sat waiting. The book follows the turmoil in the life of Swede Levov, former star athlete and successful businessman, after his daughter commits an act of political terrorism in 1968 in protest of the Vietnam War.

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Offense and defense in analytics

May 23, 2022

Consider the responsibilities of a typical Analyst in a technology company — whether in Product Analytics, Business Analytics, Marketing Analytics, or Data Science. A simplified model can classify their work into offense and defense:

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Everyone should write a novel

December 4, 2021

After I handed in the final copy of my senior thesis, an event that signified the intellectual summation of my four years of college, my advisor told me it would likely be the longest thing I’d ever write. Until last month, I would have taken his side of the bet; my recent scribbling had been restricted primarily to technical subjects along with some miscellaneous blog posts. I couldn’t imagine anything that would eclipse the 22,000-word mark I had previously set.

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Capitalization in SQL (and finally, a good style guide)

October 24, 2021

I’ve come across a number of SQL style guides and had major points of disagreement with most of them. My grumbling tends to come from, in general, their reliance on tradition rather than updating standards for the workflow of the modern analyst or engineer. To be more formal, we might say they are path dependent, and optimized for a set of conditions that no longer exist.

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Machine beats man on ancient front

October 17, 2021

The computer scientist Ken Thompson has an unusual distinction: his research has changed the rules of chess. Thompson has a rich resume, but it’s quite a feather in one’s cap to lay claim to changing a game that’s existed for hundreds of years. Specifically, Thompson’s computer-aided work on chess endgames carved out several exceptions to the long-standing fifty-move rule. At least, his work did until Thompson’s discoveries became too numerous, and chess’s overlords threw up their hands and said they were getting rid of the exceptions entirely.

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Means testing is always bad

October 10, 2021

My preferred formal definition of politics is the authoritative allocation of resources. Resources — money, healthcare, oil — are subject to scarcity, and thus politics becomes the authoritative allocation of scarce resources.

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Metrics versus the monster

August 22, 2021

Note: This post is intended for practioners of experiment and A/B test evaluation in technology settings. I argue that proposed product changes that increase a target metric while reducing a participation metric (e.g., daily active users) should require elevated scrutiny.

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The value of NBA steal, and the importance of analytics communication

August 3, 2021

In 2014, Benjamin Morris published “The Hidden Value of the NBA Steal” on FiveThirtyEight. In his article, Morris argued that both traditional NBA player evaluation and analytics had underrated the value of a player getting steals; he included the eye-catching assertion that “a steal is ‘worth’ as much as nine points.” (More on that later.) With its provocative headline, the article generated a fair amount of discussion in the sports analytics community. Morris ended up writing a four-part response and rebuttal to his critics [1,2,3,4].

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Luck and skill in Minecraft speedrunning

March 21, 2021

Recently, I started learning more about the Minecraft speedrunning community. For anyone unfamiliar with “Minecraft” or “speedrunning”: Minecraft is a video game based on exploration, world-building, and construction; and speedrunning is an attempt to complete a video game or part of a video game as quickly as possible. Speedrunning has grown into a popular subculture across many games: some of the most popular speedruns have upward of 10 million views on YouTube, and players frequently livestream speedrun attempts to substantial audiences on Twitch and other platforms. The website serves as an archivist and provides leaderboards for many communities. As of March 2021, the site indicates that Minecraft is the most popular game for speedrunning, with over 1,400 registered and active speedrunners. The size of the full Minecraft speedrunning “community,” including watchers, likely numbers at least in the hundreds of thousands, based on YouTube and Twitch view counts.

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How many votes does it take to change the outcome of a U.S. presidential election?

February 21, 2021

How “close” was the 2020 U.S. presidential election? There are several ways to approach the question: for instance, one can cite the popular vote (Joe Biden won by 7,052,770 votes, or by a margin of 4.4%) or the electoral college margin (Biden won 306 electoral votes to Trump’s 232). But if we focus on the closeness of the outcome of the election — who ended up in the White House — neither of these metrics tell us very much alone. The popular vote is irrelevant in a system governed by the institution of the electoral college (popular vote is not how the election is decided), and the overall electoral college margin can obscure the within-state vote margins that provide tipping points for the election’s outcome.

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