Wednesday, June 9, 2010

June sports roundup with an O.R eye

May was spent writing and rewriting analytical specification documents for some exciting new retail O.R products, and when it was done, it is June. which tends to be the best month of the year for international sports fans. Apart from the main course of cricket, there's the NBA finals, which looks like going the distance, and the tennis at Roland Garros and Wimbledon, where baseline power-duels are becoming increasingly boring to watch. We had the spelling bee during the weekend, where Anamika Veeramani ('stromuhr') won this year's edition, while another Indian-American Aadith Moorthy won the other bee - The National Geographic ("where would you speak Tswana?"). Amazingly, both had perfect scores throughout the competition. The spelling bee in particular seemed more interesting this year. Unlike the past where gifted kids with 10Tbs of RAM seemed to do a "total enumeration" by memorizing entire dictionaries, this time the words were chosen such that you invariably had to apply analytical methods - 'word root signatures' - and construct an optimal prediction from pieces of noisy data, without a computer and within the time limit. Consequently, total enumeration failed this time, and made for better TV viewing on ESPN, apart from being a small victory for O.R.

It is increasingly important to read and experience other cultures, with so many words from all corners of the world. Any fan of the Asterix comic book series would have spelled 'Menhir' right, while anybody who's dined at a Punjabi Indian restaurant would have drank 'Lassi' for lunch. On the other hand, the word expert who walks the kids through the definitions needs to do his own homework. Either he needs to brush up his pronunciations of these new words, or there needs to be more than one expert doing the talking (Only french-rooted words ever seem to be get pronounced right). More and more analytic job descriptions require you to work harmoniously with cross-cultural teams in this new world. Now, in addition to knowing your AMPL, you have to correctly spell or pronounce the interviewer's name (without the middle initial, to make it easy), Aransanipalai K. Ananthapadmanabhan, to get the job. Good luck.

Talking about rainbow warriors, the FIFA football world cup starts in a couple of days in the diverse nation of South Africa (yes, Invictus is based on a true story). A whole bunch of analytical work has been devoted to the deadly business of penalty kicks, which seems to determine winners in recent times. A conclusion is that a spot-kick taker can increase the odds in his favor by acting upon the recommendations from this analysis. It is not a total crap-shoot, and some teams are consistently better at this, e.g., blood and guts Germany, while others such as the soccer hooligans from across the pond are abysmal. Of course, once the goalkeeper and the striker both starting applying analytics-based prayer techniques at this sports ritual, its going to cancel out and we are going back to square one. Until then, sports analytics witch-doctors bearing stochastic gifts can ride the gravy train.

update: also see here for more on the science of penalty kicks.

1 comment:

  1. Have you seen the lecture series on Game theory by Prof Ben Polack of Yale (the "Open Course" is available on youtube and is very popular) ? In one of the early lectures, he talks about the penalty shootout problem too!!

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