Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Getting Your Ass Kicked 

Last night we went out to Baltimore with a bunch of coworkers to watch the Orioles have their asses handed to them 11-0 by the Oakland A's. Of course, just about everyone else was rooting for the Orioles. I was with the A's, not only because they're from California, but also because of what I read about them in Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game. Once one of the poorest teams in baseball, the A's manager Billy Beane started using statistics and thinking strategically to pick up players that no other teams wanted, but which nonetheless had solid ability to get on base. By grinding out runs with singles instead of homers, the A's started winning spectacularly.

That strategy was apparent last night. When the A's were at bat, they would usually get on base, or get the bases loaded, in a process that would last for ages before they finally got three outs. When the Orioles were at bat, it was usually three quick outs. It took several innings for anyone to make a run, but it was pretty obvious from the very beginning that the Orioles were facing inevitability. (Of course, they also sucked: they brought in a relief pitcher who almost immediately walked a guy while the bases were loaded. Apparently this was inadvertent, because he then threw the next guy a really easy pitch out of desperation, and that guy hit a homerun. That guy was immediately switched out, and replaced with a guy who hit a player with a wild pitch).

Now I wake up and find that apparently Google has gotten their ass handed to them by the market. Apparently people weren't up to paying top dollar for an asset whose only worth to them is the possibility of its increasing in value. It's fitting and ironic, coming from the "Don't Be Evil" guys, since the whole point of their auction process was to guarantee that most of the value of the IPO would flow to them. Of course, this isn't really that big a deal for them, since it's just their huge IPO being downgraded to a slightly less huge IPO. It is embarassing, though.

Lastly, I somehow missed the news on monday that SHA-0 and MD5 have been broken! Apparently SHA-1 is on the way to being broken as well. I found this on Volokh.com today, strangely enough. This is huge news! (The CRYPTO conference, held in lovely Santa Barbara every year, has a history of major cryptanalytical announcements; it's where Adi Shamir announced his differential cryptanalysis technique).

Re: Moneyball. I checked out the reviews on Amazon. It's amazing to me that this strategy hadn't occured to anyone before. I dare not say that it is "obvious" because it wasn't aparent to me; but you'd think there would be dozens of statisticians itching to tell managers this plan.

MP: Why do you think it possibly took this long for something like this to happen? Is it a general fear and ignorance of math? (It would have to be a very persuasive "hindsight" argument to tell me that was the source.) Is short-term thinking (i.e. local greed) at fault?
That's a good question. One thing he mentions early in the book is that the rules of how the hiring of baseball players work changed at some point in the 70s or 80s, I can't remember. That caused players to roam around looking for the highest pay, and thus the need for big money to have a good team. So it's not like this was a problem for most of the century.

But also, it can sometimes take a while before someone has the right combination of desperation, insight, and connections. And, it can take a while for people to realize what is going on.
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