Sunday, March 16, 2014

Minecraps: Empty Minecart+Chest Detector

Special thanks to Craig for encouraging me to start sharing some of my more interesting builds, which has been almost exclusively rail-related as of late.

While working on an automatic chest+cart filling station, I realized that I needed some way to detect when an empty chest+minecart was rolling up.  This ability allows for some interesting mechanics: if a partially full minecart+chest pulls up, we can send it away without adding more to it (and potentially disturbing some track/redstone logic).  However, if it's empty, I want to send a signal to some hoppers so that my minecart is filled up then sent on it's way.

After struggling with how to do this for some time, it turns out that it is pretty easy execute:

As a minecart+chest goes by, the detector rail powers the redstone directly below it.  The signal passes through two repeaters to eventually reach (in this example) a redstone lamp.  Of course, it doesn't have to be a lamp; it could be any circuit connected to the output repeater, which is the repeater furthest to the right.  Simultaneously, a comparator "weighs" the chest and emits a signal if the cart contains anything.  If so, a signal is passed through a repeater which locks the output repeater, inhibiting any output signal unless the passing cart is empty.

I'm working on an auto-load and return station which relies on this mechanism; I'll be showing that soon.  Until then, here's the whole thing in action:

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Draft Ranker 2013: Teams of Interest

Before we get into some interesting details about the 2013 draft, let's look at some individual teams' performances. Starting with the most important team ever...

The Lions!  The Ansah pick was basically a wash as the score (a reach of 3.7 spots) was within the variation of grades assigned to that player by the different pundits included in the consensus top 100.  Darius Slay, however, appears to be a substantial reach.  Fans complained that this corner could have been obtained in the 3rd round; this analysis agrees.  It's always hard to apply such reasoning to reality, however, because "it only takes one team to fall in love with a guy" and take him much earlier than what the grades predict.  The Lions made up for the reach by getting big value with Larry Warford, a player graded 20+ picks higher than where Detroit selected him.

Want an example of a team that has been pulling back muscles reaching for players?  Stay in the NFC North with the Chicago Bears.

Kyle Long, their first rounder, was a 46.1 spot reach.  Jon Bostic was a 44.7 spot reach.  Both players address a position of need for the Bears, but were valued much, much lower than their selection position.

"But they filled needs!" is what I am hearing from those beleaguered fans from the Windy City.  If only there was a way to get good value AND fill needs...

The Vikes needed a nose tackle.  Sharrif Floyed, graded as high as 3 in some top-100 boards, fell to them at 23.  They needed a corner.  The watched Xavier Rhodes fall right into their lap.  The also needed a competent WR.  With Cordarrelle Patterson sliding, they traded back into the first round and got their man.  They found significant value at each spot (more thoughts on what constitutes "significant" in a later post) while filling needs.  The contrast between the Vikes and the Bears highlights the debate between drafting for value vs. need (being lucky notwithstanding.)  I would argue, however, that given the huge discrepancy between the Bear's slots and the ranking of the players that they took at each of those picks, adjusting their strategy towards a "best player available" approach would have given them a valuable player early and some of the same players they took a round later.  This would address need while maximizing value.

Some teams found value by just letting some players fall into their laps.  The Eagles, for example, took Matt Barkley for a 50+ spot value.  The Chargers did the same with Manti Te'o.  I didn't include any other team plots here, but will do so on request.

Draft Top 100 Summary

It's draft time again!  I plan on doing several posts about this year's draft, but let's start with the basics: which team maximized their value?
Remember, this plot is generated by first compiling a consensus top 100 player board.  The consensus top player was Luke Joeckel, who had an average rank of 2.6 (some pundits had him #1 overall, others had him lower.)  Next, each time a player is selected, the value is calculated by subtracting consensus rank from the position selected.  The Jaguars took Joeckel 2nd overall, value = 2 - 2.6 = -0.6.  This means that Joeckel was considered a slight reach at #2 overall (basically, a wash).  When the value/reach for each pick is compiled for each team, we see what teams obtain the best value overall.

This year's draft has been considered unique in that there are few standout, unique players for the first round but a lot of safe, talented players for later rounds.  This pattern is somewhat reflected in the rankings, with the highest rated considered a reach at #2, and with many "reach" grades being assigned to teams.  The Bears stand out with the most reaches and the Chargers bucking the trend, even with three picks in the top 100.

This pattern becomes more pronounced if we reduce our analysis to the first round only:
Only 1/3 of the teams were able to obtain positive value; four teams had reached for players by more than 40 spots!  This is twice as many as last year, four times more than the 2011 draft.

Is this pattern evidence of a draft that is weak on top-notch talent, but deep overall?  We'll explore this over the next few posts.

Per the usual, I would like to thank The NetRat for his excellent Lions/draft coverage.  He always does me a huge favor by pushing out his top 100 big board in time for me to do my own work.

Friday, April 27, 2012

A Draft-Day Resurrection!

Whoa, it's dusty in here.  It looks like this place has been abandoned for about a year... what a mess.

There's a good reason, though.  The blog needs to be renamed, because I'm no longer at 1663.  I spent the past year looking for jobs, and I am now Spacecataz at the University of Michigan.  This is very good news, but must wait for another time.

Let's get back to what's important: the NFL draft.  The consensus draft ranking has again been performed.  Let's look at the results after one round:
What strikes me here is how few picks were rated as a value (the player was ranked at or below the selection position where they were picked).  Most picks were a slight reach.  This makes me wonder about the overall quality of this draft as teams were much more willing to reach than in previous years.

The Lions and the Steelers stand out with their picks of Reiff (+9.9) and DeCastro (+13.9), respectively and consecutively, two highly regarded linemen who slipped to 23 and 24.  It is nice to see that the Lions are grouped together with a team as well respected as the Steelers.  My feeling about the Lions' pick is that it is one that will not result in drastic improvement, but rather ensure continuation of their recent success.

Finally, there are three notable reaches: the Bears' pick of Shea McClellin (-28.1), the 49ers' pick of wideout AJ Jenkins (-58.3), and the Seahawks super-reach for defensive end Bruce Irvin (-66.7).  Though I consider these rankings to be a rough guide at best, the last two reaches are so distant that they are destined to disappoint (see, for example, the Raiders' selections in the first round over the past few years).

That's the current status, I'll keep updating as each day ends.  I'll be quite late about the 2nd round because I'll be on an airplane for the rest of the day.  Finally, I'll discuss updates to the software that have helped me complete the study in record time.

Special thanks to NetRat for contributing his top 100 player list!

Edit: Those new to the consensus draft system I have set up can find the best discussion of it here.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Good Internet Monday: Tweeting About DTW

Okay, I'll admit it. Post-A-Day-May is an abject failure. Egads.

That said, back to regular posting.

Being from south east Michigan and doing a lot of traveling for work, I've come to love Detroit's airport (DTW.) Compared to most others, it is beautiful, easy to navigate, clean and just damn impressive. Today, I have found that I am not alone in this assessment:

In #Detroit airport and never really sat back and saw how nice an airport it is! It was good to be back for a bit.
That's fan favorite Detroit Lion Ndamukong Suh via Twitter. This morning, renowned writer Peter King echoed his sentiment in his weekly Sports Illustrated article.

Cool beans.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Whiskey Tango Friday: Deep Physics and Analogies

XKCD does an excellent job illustrating a huge problem one encounters when trying to explain theoretical work: simplifying how the world works for explanation to the lay person through the use of analogy often robs the listener of true depth and complexity of the situation. True understanding of the world takes years of dedicated study; there are no short cuts.

Expanded upon in great detail by Richard Feynman (especially at the six minute mark):

One of the greatest theoretical courses I ever took was a graduate level electrodynamics course. The entire class was chalk and chalkboard for 3 hours a week. The professor began with Maxwell's equations and moved through derivations until we had two equations that described the combination of slowly varying, quickly diminishing electric and magnetic fields and the rapidly varying fields that propagate through space- light. It was one of the most enlightening moments of my life, and it took years to arrive at this point. I had taken many courses in physics and upper level math, but it culminated to this one moment in time when I actually understood light. I could do my best to use analogies to put this description of the world in terms that someone without a deep mathematical background could grasp, but I would be robbing them of the truly transcendent moment of deep comprehension.

This is a great problem in physics: it is nigh-impossible to impart the depth or appreciation of the knowledge gleaned from this discipline because of the background required to truly understand it. It must be emphasized that this is not a slight on anyone- the smartest people in the world can not tackle these issues without the proper tools.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Draft Top 100 Wrap Up

Strike one on post-a-day. In any case, let's wrap up the draft.

Here's the final verdict (large here):First thing's first: anyone know a better way to do pictures in Blogger other than the built-in Picasa interface? It seriously sucks. I can't link to a simple hi-res version, the embedding options suck, and it's a plain old pain-in-the-ass. Yeesh.

Anyway, the Lions got some good value, as I posted previously. The Buccaneers dominated the value board overall. How did they do that?

Aha! A small reach for Adrian Clayborn, but huge value for both Da'Quan Bowers and Mason Foster. Bowers is a wild card- reports of a microfracture make him a risky talent. Mason Foster was one that I was hoping the Lions could grab, but they looked towards offense (and got good value with LeShoure) in the 2nd round. I like Tampa's draft; they should have a significantly upgraded defense.

Other teams who drafted well are the Giants, Saints, and Chiefs. The Saints grabbed good value with Mark Ingram (but they had to trade up to get him) while the Giants scored big by letting Prince Amukamara fall to them late in the first round. Had the Lions grabbed Prince at 13, it would have been a reach. Fairley was a huge value and a potentially exciting player for the defense.

What about the "big losers"? Again, it all depends on how the players wind up playing, but the Eagles corned the market on big reaches for the day:

The Jets and Chargers also did their share of reaching, with Nate Irving dragging the Jets down while San Diego had no positive picks (five total). Their biggest reach was Michigan LB Mouton, who was not listed on any top-100 board.

Stay tuned! I'll be discussing the new features of the Draft Ranker software that made the analysis easier than ever and what I'll be doing for next year's draft (open source, anyone?)

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Welcome to Post-A-Day May!

For the entire month of May, I will post at least once a day. Why? To try to get this blog off the ground. It will be bigger than the pet rock!

To ring in this fine May morning, I present you with a picture of the lovely Los Alamos weather:


Friday, April 29, 2011

Lions' Draft Through Day 2.

The Consensus Draft Ranker has been re-tooled to give us a quick-look way to assess a single team's draft. How did the Lions look?

Both Nick Fairley and Mikel LeShoure (1st and 2nd round picks, respectively) were good values- they were picked later in the draft then their consensus top 100 ranking. Titus Young, however, was a 13 spot reach. Overall, the Lions nabbed good value with their picks. Fairley is clear evidence for a Best-Player-Available approach (covered extensively by Net Rat) as tackle is not a position of need for the Lions.

The ranking neglects both need and trades, two key factors in the draft. How badly were these players needed by the Lions? This is certainly a hot topic amongst fans; Mike Schottey covers this extensively. What about trades? The Mikel LeShoure pick looks good above, however it doesn't take into account that the Lions had to trade back into the second round to get him. Essentially, the Lions used two picks to get LeShoure, making the value calculation difficult. Need is subjective, so I do not attempt to include it in my analysis. Trades, however, likely can be accounted for, but I am not sure how to approach this yet.

Because the consensus rankings of players are essentially the sum of many opinions, I offer this interpretation of the Lions' draft: there is no clear, desperate reach where the pick value is strongly negative. This continues to provide evidence that Mayhew's approach is one that values talent over need. It also provides context for the Titus Young pick: as high-value line backers flew off the board early in the second round, the Lions could have easily reached for a lower-valued 'backer at 44. Rather, they let a higher-ranked WR fall into their laps. Following these patterns, neither the Fairley or the Young pick surprised me in the slightest. Trading back into the 2nd, however...

Draft Ranker is Back!

Two years ago, I created my first consensus draft ranking system. This year, it's back in a completely new form! It's been completely re-written from the ground up, and is graphical!

To summarize: many different top-100 player boards are averaged to create a consensus top-100. Then, each actual draft pick is ranked by subtracting the position of the pick from the consensus ranking of the player picked. For example, if the Lions pick a player at 13 whose average position in the consensus top-100 is 5, the Lions receive a grade of +8, meaning the player they picked is an 8 slot value. Conversely, if the Patriots pick a player at 20 whose average top-100 position is 98, the Patriots would receive a grade of -78, meaning they reached 78 slots for that player.

This is what the first round looks like (click here for big):

I will detail the work that goes into building this software in the following posts as well as posts the results for the first 100 picks and team-specific results.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Whiskey Tango Friday: Killer Coffee Muppets

This is amazing. Apparently, in 1957, Jim Henson made a series of short adverts for Wilkins' Instant Coffee. Some one dug up the footage of Beta-Kermit making sure you drink Wilkins'... OR ELSE!

Watch for...
  1. Beta Kermit shooting another muppet.
  2. Beta Kermit watching another muppet drown.
  3. Beta Kermit shanking another muppet.
Oh, how I long for the days when muppet violence was considered the norm. It was a simpler time... a better time.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

No Haven for Science, Part 3

FINALLY continuing the climate change email saga. Here is my response to "Carl", the ignorant but sure climate change denier.
Hey, [Carl]. Thanks for the reply.

I think the issues you bring up -- is CO2 the greatest factor in climate change, what other factors are there, etc. -- are good questions and are issues actually being tackled in the climate community. One only needs to follow some of the conversations on [Lab Email] to see all of the factors (including CO2) that are constantly under scrutiny by the scientific community (solar input, the role of aerosols, and more). It is a complex question indeed.

I am CC'ing the climate list again because I believe that your concerns are legitimate but ultimately ones that have been addressed by the scientific community. I do not mean to ridicule whatsoever! The experts on the climate list can address your questions far better than I, and communicating the state of climate science to non-experts (such as myself, see below) is a key part of our careers.

I must admit that I'm not a climate scientist; I merely follow the email list because it interests me. That said, one need not be a specialist to see that the article you originally sent out does not pass the "smell test". The entire article leaves nearly all the work to the reader when it comes to trying to figure out if any of this is true.

A smattering of references (note that they were not placed in the article itself, but rather in the comments section -- this should be a huge red flag) does
very little to settle the matter because if one actually reads them, they are extremely inconclusive. For example, the second reference reports that the recent sporadic pole movement is somewhat expected and not necessarily indicative of a pole reversal. The Nature article (one must find this independently as no link or actual reference is given) concludes with "The evidence relating [pressure systems with magnetic field shifts] is less convincing and there is clearly a need for further comparisons of meteorological data...". This paper is from 1974. If more research was required then, why not include a paper that is more recent? Several articles are --at best -- only tangentially related to the topic.

Some claims are so far fetched that eyebrows should raise instinctively. For example, Mr. Aym says, "And what normally happens is that all hell breaks loose." Normally??? He just stated that flips occur every 500,000 years! We have no frame of reference for what is "normal"!

It requires no specialized degree to administer a smell test, just a recognition that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. This is why I sent out the picture -- I wasn't sure if you were serious or just trying to stir up some fun on the climate list. Whenever you get an article like this, sniff around to see if any of it stinks.

To get to the core of the matter, however, specialized knowledge of the physics and science behind the article is required. That is a big problem, because this article is written in such a way as to obfuscate issues so that it is difficult for a lay person to know what is real and what sounds real but is false. Though I am not a climate scientist, I am a space plasma physicist who studies the Earth's magnetosphere. There is a lot that is fundamentally wrong with this article; I'll hit some of the main issues.

First off, the major solar driver of climate and weather is light radiation. This is not affected by our magnetic field. Studies to how fluctuations in solar intensity affects climate change are performed frequently; it is important to note that we are in the midst of a historic solar activity minimum while Earth surface temperatures continue to rise (for example, see here).

The idea that the Earth's magnetic field shields us from "cancer causing radiation" is demonstrably false. It is the atmosphere that does the greatest amount of shielding. If there was no magnetic field, particles with energies equal to those captured in the radiation belts would not penetrate very deeply into our atmosphere. Currently, these particles can still penetrate near the magnetic poles, but again only to the extent that only very high altitude flights are affected. To penetrate to ground level, only super-energetic (>>GeV) particles have enough energy, and such particles are already moving quickly enough to be only slightly deflected by the Earth's magnetic field. Cancer causing radiation from the sun, as far as humans are concerned, is better known as ultraviolet radiation. This is not shielded by the Earth's magnetic field but by our atmosphere. If the Earth's magnetic field blocked UV rays, we wouldn't be having this conversation now.

Finally, the assertion that Sun's "magnetosphere" (known as the heliosphere as it is a solar, not terrestrial, body) can affect the Earth's rotation, wobble, and core to any significant degree is again incorrect. While the heliosphere transmits extensive energy to the Earth via the solar wind, this energy is dispersed through well known electric current and plasma flow systems. The energy balance is well accounted for without including any change to the Earth's rotation, etc.. Even if all of this energy was put to changing the rotation, wobble, or core, it could barely make a dent in these high-inertia systems.

This is my honest attempt to answer your original question about the veracity of the article. As for some of your follow up questions, the climate community will do a far better job than I. I hope you found this helpful and I'm happy to discuss it further.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Airport Blogging: San Antonio

I'm on the way back from a quick trip to Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) in San Antonio, Texas. They have an excellent instrumentation and data analysis team, so it was good to talk to them. Being a numerical modeler, it's easy to lose touch with current missions.

This is my third time traveling since the full-body scanners were put in place but the first time that I was instructed to participate. My feelings about the scanners are strongly negative: the radiation dose is poorly quantified and the potential danger ill investigated, but most of all they just don't help. Right now, as Republicans look to slash billions from the budget either on the whims of uneducated constituents or as a way to control current programs they don't agree with, the scanners remain in place. The machines are horribly expensive and couldn't have stopped the attack for which they are a response.

My mild mutiny against the machines is to opt-out every time. On an individual level, it doesn't do much, but I hope that the number of opt-outs grows to the point where it is making a clear statement. To be clear, I do not wish to make the jobs of TSA agents unnecessarily difficult. While there has been a number of reports of poor behavior of agents assigned to do the pat-downs, notably at Albuquerque, I am not trying to make a point to the agents as a whole.

My opt-out to pat-down was quick and uneventful, which was a pleasant relief. There have been many stories of people facing unreasonable delays due to opting out, but this was not the case at ABQ or SAT. The agents were quick, thorough, but quite professional and respectful. The patting down was not (ahem) overly-thorough. Rather anti-climatic, but this is how it should be.

I'll be back in Los Alamos tonight; I'll post more interesting stuff upon my return.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Good Internet Monday: Los Alamos County Views

Last Friday, I did something that I haven't done in quite some time: got involved politically. I spoke briefly, as did many Los Alamos residents, at a regional transit authority meeting.

Los Alamos has an excellent, free, bus system to take you all over town. It has allowed my family to live single-vehicle for most of our 2+ years here. The way in which funds are divided up among regional transit systems is likely to change, however, reducing the funding that Los Alamos receives -- despite the fact that Los Alamos is, tax wise, the 2nd largest contributor to the regional pot of money. This has caused some residents, including myself, to speak up at meetings.

One of the ways in which the knowledge of the meeting and the decision was spread was through the Los Alamos County Views blog. Good internet at its finest, this is one man dumping loads of local info to the web at a constant frequency. Quite impressive. Such small, but potent, blogs are becoming key ways to stay informed. They certainly deserve recognition.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Where's Space?

Where have I been? Obviously some place that allows me to neglect this blog!

Actually, it's just been a very, VERY hectic time.
-I am learning why a linear extrapolation is not appropriate for quantifying the difficulty of having two kids versus just one.
-I am trying to wrap up three research projects while starting a new one and continuing two others.
-I am in the midst of a travel blitzkrieg, including 2.5 hours worth of presentations to be given this Thursday at SWRI.
-It's proposal season! I'm involved in three, leading the writing on one, and have more coming up soon.

But most of all, it's about the future. My appointment here at the lab ends in less than a year. This means that I have big decisions to make, the sooner the better. If I decide to go back to academia, I need to publish and fast. If I decide to try to obtain a full-time position at the lab, I need to do lab-oriented research. The situation is as tenuous as it gets, with lab funding caught up in the recent Red-versus-Blue budget showdown on capital hill. With science funding from NASA, NSF, and others in the same position, universities may be loathe to hire researchers for fear of available research grants to keep them. All this contributes to long talks at home and less sleep that I care to admit. I, however, do not have it worst- many of my colleagues are in tougher positions due to their citizenship. I do not envy their position whatsoever.

Given my laundry list of responsibilities, where does this blog fall? The lack of posts clearly answers this question, but not how I want it answered. I want this to become a good science blog with a reasonable number of followers, and the only way to do this is by posting, and frequently. Therefore, I lay down two challenges to myself:
1) Drastically increase the frequency of posts throughout the month of April. This should be easy, considering the upcoming NFL draft (which I never miss!)
2) May will be Post-A-Day-May (PADM). I will post every day throughout May.

These two challenges should get the blog back on track.