26 April 2011

Tuesday Football: Administrivia edition #1

Just going all over the place on football matters.

Playoffs, playoffs everywhere:  It sucks to be Schalke 04 tonight.  Die Knappen lost 2-0 at home in the first leg of its UEFA Champions League semifinal round.  Now they have to win by two goals at Old Trafford next week.  Manchester United can wrap this up with just one goal at home.  Ouch.

In the other semifinal, Real Madrid and Barcelona meet yet again.  Coaches Pep Guardiola (Barça) and Jose Mourinho (Real) have resorted to trash talking, probably because they're both getting bored with playing each other so many times in the same month.

As if I'll ever play Madden 12:  I voted for Cleveland RB Peyton Hillis over Philadelphia QB Michael Vick, all right, but I waited until the last day of voting to do it.  I stopped playing video games shortly after Marble Madness, so I'm unlikely to ever play Madden 2012.  Still, the choice, determined in a single-elimination tournament whose winners were decided by Internet polling, doesn't speak so well of the NFL fan base.  What we have here is a contest between a star player with a troubled past and a promising rusher who has yet to prove himself over a full season.  It's an odd choice.

Administrivia:  I've posted the 2011 NFL draft order, as Victory Weighting would have determined it.  It's the rightmost button on the the bar at the top of the blog.  Also, it's out with the yellow links and in with the softer blues and grays, plus some orange.  I finally got a chance to look at this blog on someone else's monitor, and the old scheme was just too harsh.

22 April 2011

Friday Double: What's a nice theme like you...?

...doing in a rotten series like this?

My knowledge of Star Trek arcana may not be enough to make me a hard-core Trekkie, but I was dedicated enough almost a decade ago to actually look forward to the beginning of Star Trek: Enterprise.  But my first hearing of the dreadful Faith of the Heart should have warned me about just how seriously the show would eventually suck.  The Diane Warren composition didn't even fit with the visual part of Enterprise's opening title, let alone the spirit of the Star Trek franchise.  I won't dignify that song with a link, because this Friday Double isn't about wastes of bad music on brutally disappointing television series.

It's about wastes of good music on brutally disappointing television series.

There are a few reasons why I don't hate Enterprise nearly as much as its predecessor, Star Trek:  Voyager.  First, Enterprise had better plots.  Second, it didn't have salamanders.  Third, I might have felt better about Enterprise had its opening title resembled the gorgeous treatment Voyager got.

To tell the truth, I had given up on Voyager well before it got to those salamanders.  It's just too bad Jerry Goldsmith's theme couldn't grace a show that deserved it.

Jeff Beal, whom I sometimes call HBO's resident composer, penned my other feature today.  Carnivàle had an opening title that framed it even more perfectly than Voyager -- but it sold a series that proved even more bitterly disappointing.

A blown Star Trek production like Voyager was inevitable, and so, too, was a bad HBO series.  Even at that, though, Carnivàle gave the HBO viewing world a shock.  Not even producer Ronald D. Moore liked it, as he would admit in a DVD comment track for his better known and liked series, Battlestar Galactica (2004).

So which other bad TV series got great opening credits?

19 April 2011

Tuesday Football: New Victory Weighting definitions

Yes, the last third of April is an odd time to bring up my Victory Weighting scheme, but there's the little matter of the NFL Draft, which, for 2011, starts next Thursday.  That event provides the perfect pretext to introduce definitions for a couple of terms that occasionally occur in tiebreaking contexts.  [If you haven't done so already, please click on the Victory Weighting line in the top bar for an overview of the system.]

Strength of Victory

This figure provides an estimate of the quality of the opponents a team has defeated.  As a tiebreaker, it applied only when all comparisions of sub-records (e.g. records vs. common opponents) have failed.

The NFL calculates strength of victory as the combined won-lost-tied percentages of those opponents a team has beaten.  For Victory Weighting, it has a more formal definition.

For a given season, a team's strength of victory is the sum of the weighted current Strengths of its opponents, taken over all completed games.   For each game the team has played, the Strength it earned from that game weights the opponent's current Strength.  At the beginning of the season, strength of victory is 0 for all teams.
Written as a formula,

  • Wi is the Strength the team earned from game i.  It ranges from 0 to 4, per the standard Victory Weighting rules.  Once established, it never changes.
  • Si(N) is the current strength of opponent i; that is, its Strength as of week N during the season.  This value usually increases over the course of the season.
For example, consider two teams who meet in the first week of the season.  While the game was in progress, N=0, and, by definition, both teams have zero strength of victory.  Upon completion of the game, N increments to 1.  If the game ended in overtime, the winner's strength of victory increases by 0.750 (Wi = 3, Si(1) = 1, 3*1/4 = 0.75).   After eight weeks (N = 8), if the loser has earned 16 Strength, that contribution increases from 0.75 to 3*16/4=12.00.

Only completed games count toward strength of victory.  Games remaining on the schedule do not count, since their game weights cannot be determined until they have been played.

A few easy colloraries follow:
  • After the first week, every team's strength of victory is either 0, 3 or 4.
  • A team that has not managed even an overtime loss has a strength of victory of zero.  The  Detroit Lions accomplished this dubious feat in 2008.
  • If a team has not played any overtime games, its strength of victory is equal to the combined Strength of all the teams it has defeated.  If, that team also finishes undefeated, its strength of victory is also equal to its strength of schedule.  The 2007 New England Patriots are the only team to achieve this distinction since the NFL adopted overtime.*

Strength of Schedule

For the 32-team NFL, this statistic isn't as crititcal as it is for the NCAA, which has to evaluate 120 to 350 teams at once for its tournaments.  Accordingly, the NFL can use a less rigorous formula for each team: the combined won-loss-tied percentage of all its opponents.  Typically, strength of schedule is evaluated only at the end of a season, after all games have been played.

Victory Weighting provides a more rigorous definition:
For a given season, a team's strength of schedule is the sum of all its opponents' current Strengths, taken over the entire season.
Its formula is

  • Nmax is the length of the season in games, currently 16.
  • Si(N) is the current strength of opponent i; that is, its Strength as of week N during the season.  This value usually increases over the course of the season.
At any point in the season, the strength-of-schedule calculation includes games yet to be played, as well as games already played.

In both the official and VW schemes, strength of schedule is the first tiebreaker used to determine draft order.  If that fails, then any division and conference tiebreakers that were used for playoff seeding apply.

With both terms defined for Victory Weighting, two more corollaries emerge:
  • After the first week, all winners have a strength of schedule equal to 0 or 1; all losers, 3 or 4.  If the first game ends in a tie, both teams have a strength of schedule equal to 2.
  • If a team has not played any overtime games, the ratio between its strength of victory and its strength of schedule is equal to its won-loss-tied percentage.
Some examples follow the fold.

15 April 2011

Friday Double: (1) Planet Earth

When I remarked on the passing of composer John Barry several weeks ago, I noted that I haven't brought up my love film or video soundtracks here often enough.  Hopefully, this new Friday Double feature will fix that.  The idea is simply to cite two cuts that I like every Friday, both from the same movie, TV series or composer.  The BBC/Discovery documentary Planet Earth stars in our premiere edition.

George Fenton has earned five Academy Award nominations, including one for the score to 1983 Best Picture Gandhi, but most of his work has been for British television.  Planet Earth won him his second Emmy for Outstanding Music Composition (after the equally stunning Blue Planet). While he could give the next quarter-billion-dollar Hollywood epic a proper score, Fenton is probably a lot happier doing what he does now.  Good on him.

I'll probably post more examples of Fenton's incredible range in the future, but here's "Surfing Dolphins."  In the film segment, the dolphins aren't just surfing near a small beach; they're teaching their kids how to track down dinner.  The NFL fan in me has also noted that, poorly as they've played recently, this same music could easily accompany the numerous miscues from the Miami Dolphins' last few seasons.

I wouldn't have brought gridiron up had I not heard the Planet Earth theme backgrounding an NFL Network report last fall.  That struck me oddly, because the NFL strongly prefers to commission its own incidental music, via NFL Films.  Yet, here they were, using the work of George Fenton (an outsider!) to help document the decline and fall of wide receiver Randy Moss.

Well, the NFL was using outside music, and it was the theme to Planet Earth... but George Fenton didn't write it.  The theme is a 51-second cut from "The Time Has Come," whose actual authors are Tobias Marberger and Gabriel Shadid.

There it is: my first Friday Double.   Hope you like it.

06 April 2011

Bloggers's block

I hate when this happens:  I spend hours working on a new blog post (this one about the Rebecca Black fiasco), make the edits, add the pictures and links, and proofread it one last time.  Upon that final review, I then realize that I've said either nothing or, even worse, overextended my logic the way Napoleon sent his armies too far.  The grammar is sound, the spelling is all correct, but the post is just an unreadable mess.

While I plot out a post that might actually work, I'll just decompress and bask in the fact that my alma mater just won the better played NCAA basketball championship game.  Whoop!