Thursday, April 30, 2009

IPL-II: The Indian cricket perspective

One of the plus points of this IPL version is that its taking place in South Africa, and therefore it provides us a nice way of evaluating the cricketing quality of non-internationals (Dhoni himself has played very little here). The pitches are more balanced, with mishits seldom going for a six, unlike the Indian edition of IPL last year. The number of skiers have been astonishing and the percentage of high catches that have been dropped, even more so.

The young Indian spinners look good, what with the spin-friendly pitches that seem to abound. On the other hand, the fast bowling department looks a mixed bag. The rookie Kamran Khan probably needs to work on his action. One is hoping for a comeback from the smiling Balaji (he appears to be among the wickets again), while RP Singh looks adequate. Malinga and Nannes appear to be streets ahead, and the Aussies are on international duty and havent played yet. In terms of batting, Raina in particular looks awesome, and should be picked for Test cricket right away. Rohit Sharma showed that he can bat well anywhere in the world if he puts his mind to it, while Yusuf Pathan is only limited by the air density and the boundary distance. Dhoni will improve his batting, keeping, and captaincy skills from this experience and this will only help India in the long run. The rest of the young guns have been inconsistent and haven't made much of an impact so far.

The most embarrassing aspect of Indian cricket continues to be the fielding. We are unfit for 21st century sport! Ravi Jadeja and Raina are the stand-outs here. The BCCI needs to do some serious remedial work here.

Let's hope that as the IPL progresses, some of the Indian colts can put up their hands and shine, but for now, there are few test match prospects besides Ojha (spin) and Raina (batting).

A couple of other notes - The umpiring has been poor in a few of games last week.. As predicted earlier on this tab, the ego-ride for the Kolkata team-owner is coming close to its natural end. Hopefully he will sell it off asap to a better owner and walk off with the profits and stay away from cricket forever.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

A tale of three T20 cricket leagues: ICL, IPL, and the APL

The BCCI has all of a sudden announced an amnesty for the ICL players from India, thereby opening the way for other cricket boards to do the same. This is a very interesting move since the BCCI does not do anything unless it sees money in it. Does the fact the ICL is in the process of morphing into the American Premier League (APL), courtesy of a Mr. Jay Mir alarm the IPL (i.e., the BCCI)? Reports indicate that a huge fraction of the ICL players have signed on to the APL, which can be a potential money spinner since it can bring T20 cricket to the U.S. The US cricket association itself was a fractured group for quite a while and besides its a free country here. Unless BCCI offers some sops to us here, the APL may come to stay. U.S passion for security means that ICL players will feel much more comfortable playing here than in India (sadly).

While its possible that a wolf has turned into a lamb, it will not be unsurprising if change of heart is in fact related to the APL, and if so, the BCCI deserves to sweat it out, given the high-handed vengeful way in which decent cricketing folks associated with the ICL were shunned over the world. Perhaps its payback time, and it will be interesting to see how the ICC, and the BCCI sort this mess out.

Monday, April 20, 2009

IPL - day 2 - Replace Strategy breaks with tactical 2-minute time outs

The idiocy of the strategy break was highlighted on a day when IPL was hit by 'flood' problems - rain flooding the field, and the flood-lights not working when the rain stopped. Its common knowledge that its an advertising break. However, it makes more sense to break it down into two 90 or 120-sec tactical time-outs for either team, just like it's done in the NBA. This limits the total break time to 6-8 minutes and may actually make cricketing sense, while also not killing the momentum of the T20 game.

The Kolkata team reflects its owner. Its big on style, and even without Akhtar, it has a flashy set of players with limited substance, and a self-serving coach, all on a big ego-ride. It's tough to root against a team which has Ganguly. Like him or hate him, he is a great Indian cricketer and should have remained captain. I may come to eat my words, but they may win a few games when the flashiness works, but without Ponting and Hussey, (Saurav aside) this team has little heart or substance.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

IPL cricket second edition - day one

Two of India's greatest batsman showed their class while the other Indians generally struggled to cope with alien conditions in South Africa, where IPL-II is being staged. The contest is more even due to the nature of the wickets, so the cricket content is going to be more enjoyable than the first edition. Sachin and Dravid anchored successful batting efforts for Mumbai, and my home town, Bangalore, respectively. The interesting moment today was when Dhoni blundered - leaving Murali out of the 11 on a day when Harbhajan bowled really well to Hayden, Kumble took 5-5, and Warne showed his genius. Dravid's classy fifty was marked with his clearly pointing his bat at somebody in the crowd (hopefully asking Hoochman Mallya, the distasteful, pompous owner of his team to just shut up).

Other IPL news involves yet another self-serving vestigial coach, this time in form of John Buchanan spouting some b.s about not one or two, but 5 captains. On assumes the remaining 6 are vice-captains (Kolkata socialism makes its impact :-). Gavaskar, never one to mince words, pointed it out, and J.B tried to rephrase. It's not that big a deal really. India has played with 5-odd (ex-) captains, while Pak in the 90s played with 6-8 of them. Dhoni routinely lets bowlers set fields.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Bangalore to Blacksburg: A campus trail of terror that leads where ?

The Virginia Tech campus in Blacksburg is an idyllic place of study. It's an amazing experience to sit in any one of the many quiet spots around the duck pond in the VT campus and study Operations Research (or Indian Philosophy) for hours. The bliss factor is really high. Likewise, the Indian Institute of Science is the last green sanctuary for graduate students in the concrete jungle that is Bangalore. I've spent countless hours walking and cycling thru the beautiful IISc campus and playing table tennis in the gymkhana. It's difficult to think of more peaceful sanctuaries for students. All that changed two years ago.

It's been two years since the massacre at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg by a lone deranged student on April 16, 2007. It's been about four years since jehadi terrorists bombed and shot up the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore. This happened on the day of a conference on Operations Research there. Similarly, among the innocent victims at Blacksburg was Dr. G.V. Loganathan, a mild-mannered, hard-working, and brilliant civil engineering professor of Indian origin. He had co-authored some nice papers on optimizing water distribution networks - he was an OR person as well.

You want to study O.R in peace; it can be a noble science that can help man use nature's scarce resources more wisely (We have enough for man's need, but not his greed, said the Mahatma). After these mindless killings in 2005 and 2007, the pit in your stomach tells you that there is no more safe haven in this world. Not for you, and certainly not for your children. The right to life and liberty in the 21st century is going to have to be earned the hard way. Will every children's park, school, and public place have to be monitored and policed with machine guns? will the latest Kevlar-lined shirt and armor-plated cars be the hot selling item (for today's Bangalore traffic, what u need is a big tank) Will we eventually become a planet of agoraphobics?

Saturday, April 11, 2009

O.R Practice: The paradox of optimality

Operations Research in practice is, as one would expect, a different animal compared to O.R in academia. I choose to call it 'applied O.R'. OR dwells a lot on optimality, and there's no ambiguity there. AOR deals with optimalities. They come in different shades (some shadier than the others :-). We'll just touch upon a couple of them here.

Every analytic firm sells stuff with the word 'optimizer' somewhere. In most cases they dont really optimize anything. But some of them do; atleast they hope to 'improve' something. But optimizer sounds cooler than 'improver' because we understand that one cant really do better than 'optimal'. Management folks so love this word they'll use it in the most non-optimal manner!

Now, something is 'optimal' to you unless you find something better. It's 'user optimal'; something that your user cannot replicate visually (or if you are a good OR guy, neither can excel). If the user doesnt get to interact with your product much, user-optimality is great. A quick and dirty AOR heuristic is good enough. Minimum effort, maximum benefit. Dr. Hari J. Balasubramanian at the University of Mass, Amherst has a great article in ORMS-Today on a user-optimal solution to the land-reallocation problem after the 1947 partition of India. He's got a nice blog going (follow the 'thirty letters' blog link on this page).

The user-optimal solution approach looks good until the day a user insists he wants to play with the tool to what-if analyze scenarios and use it for decision support. Thats when they see that user-optimal doesnt cut it. They dont know it, but they actually require real (global) optimality. Therein lies the paradox. Nobody really cares about global optimality since your model is but a fading shadow of reality. However, if your interactive AOR product cant consistently hit solutions close to optimality, its just a scattergun. Its a car that turns by random amounts and directions. Or think of it this way - if you are an OR student - when do you expect to defend your OR dissertation and graduate if the CPLEX or GUROBI solver in your university lab suddenly solves your LPs to only within 25-50% of optimality but doesnt tell you that.

Your optimal answer and objective value is itself pretty useless, but the method you employed to generate that on a consistent basis is priceless; your customer can actually take decisions and make policies based on the response of your AOR product. Everything looks good until somebody says something about 'degeneracy' .... to be continued.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Worlds best detectives in book and TV fiction

Here's a list in ascending order. It's pretty subjective, and one can imagine hugely different rankings by others. I'm from India, so a couple of great indian characters who i believe have a wonderful universal appeal. A key requirement is that the story be enjoyable (its fiction!), plot-driven, with a focus on solving a really serious crime (so that leaves all pesky teen investigators out). lawyers are not allowed in this list. But this much I can say - if u have watched or read each of these characters, you are certainly a fellow tooler!

Feel free to enter your own personal ranking and i will update the blog with a "most popular list" soon.

10. We start with a tie.
a. Det.Brisco and Green. The best team which formed the "law" in "law and order". The have 30 minutes to properly investigate and make a realistic case on tv before the lawyers screw it up.

b. Karamchand. A popular Indian Favorite, was inspired by Columbo. This carrot-nibbling investigator was innovatively interpreted by ace actor Pankaj Kapur, solved many tv crimes in 1980-90s India.

9. Det. Goren, NYPD. From 'Law and Order - Criminal Intent'. Still going strong. Along with partner Detective Eames who keeps him sane, they track down a variety of killers and Goren uses his brilliant (if sometimes disturbing) psycho-analytical skills to get the perps to confess. His nemesis, Nicole Wallace is long dead... or is she?

8. Miss Marple. Agatha Christie gets her first of two bites of the apple for creating another unforgettable character. The old lady solves crimes in quiet English villages ....

7. Cadfael, the Benedictine monk is also an unlikely detective who solves crimes while faithfully serving his lord, played well by Derek Jacobi.

6. Monk. It's his name. The last season remains. Adrian's powers of observation and pattern recognition is a blessing but it comes along with the curse of an obsessive compulsive disorder and a plethora of phobias. he's still searching for his wife's killers...

5. Der Alte (The Old Fox), original series. The German detective along with his youthful sidekick started solving TV crimes in 70s displaying both cunning and courage.

4. Byomkesh Bakshi. The quintessential Bengali intellectual of old India created by Sharadindu Bandyopadhyay. Compassionate and brilliant. I wonder if they'll dub the tv version in English, played by Rajit Kapoor. India's best by far. Highly recommended. It's inspired by Poirot and Holmes, but is utterly Indian in the end.

3. Hercule Poirot. The egg-headed master of the grey cells from Belgium created by Agatha Christie. A touch of vanity, but always fair, and way too clever for killers. and every case is a challenge.

2. Columbo. A personal favorite, along with his crumpled coat, a crumpled tie, an equally crumpled looking hound, an even more crumpled old car (hilarious when asks it to be valet-parked), and his loving wife who never makes it to screen, and an un-used gun that he's never fired in a while. Peter Falk's victims always underestimated him and relaxed their guard when he just has that one last question ...

1. Sherlock Holmes - Probably the most reprised character in dramatic history, along with the gutsy Dr. Watson at 221B baker street, is still the best by far, and inspired many of those characters below in his list. Even the 'young Sherlock Holmes' prequel imagined by Spielberg was pretty good. Although Holmes never said 'elementary, my dear Watson', Arthur Conan Doyle gave his character some brilliant deductive powers, an encyclopedic knowledge, lots of courage, a spirit of adventure, but also a weakness for the occasional shot of morphine when unemployed. The world's greatest fictional research scientist as well as the world's greatest criminal mind in the form of his nemesis, Dr. Moriarty clash in an epic manner.

Update: My sister recommends: "Thomas Lynley from Scotland Yard in crime fiction by Elizabeth George (read her books - they are superbly written). Eliz George is an American who writes in the style of a British crime writer - am a huge fan of hers".

Monday, April 6, 2009

number 182

No fielder (besides the keeper, of course) had taken more than 181 catches in the history of test cricket until yesterday. Rahul Dravid took a couple yesterday in Wellington, New Zealand to touch 183. All the more impressive considering that Mark Waugh held that record, and he was one outstanding fielder. The unbelievable catch that he held to dismiss VVS Laxman (youtube) during India's run-chase in the Chennai Test of 2001 made me quite sick as an indian cricket fan.

Hopefully he can shed his hangdog/stonewalling batting method that's crept in since 2006, quite unlike his 'gritty but positive' batting between 2001-06, both in ODIs and tests. Would love to see the real Dravid at least once before he retires...

Courtesy of 'The Hindu', here's a beautiful photo of the impending 182nd brick in the wall !

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

IPL Safari cop-out

The only good news about holding the cricket junk food league outside India is that the young Indian players waiting in the wings will gain exposure to conditions outside the subcontinent. This will definitely help Indian cricket in the long run. Otherwise, India caves in as usual. No surprise. Cave-in as a strategy hasn't worked for, um... about 1000 years now since Ghazni. Yeah, lets give it some more time, who knows.