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.