Wednesday, December 5, 2012

How Can You Incentivize Preventative Care?

Why do some physicians provide insufficient preventative care?

Perhaps the physician compensation incentive system is askew when it comes to preventative care.

Quick background: 
Medicare currently uses Relative Value Units (RVUs) to determine fees for health care providers. It is basically a measure that quantifies “care” and is composed of three inputs:

  • The relative level of time and skill that a service takes to deliver.
  • The expenses required to deliver this service (e.g., staff time, rent, gauze).
  • The expected risk of the service, as measured by the marginal malpractice cost.

I would consider adding a fourth component:  prevention. Prevention would be the opposite of the third component:  the expected decrease in risk of incurring future medical costs.

For example:
Service xyz has the three following components:inputs:

  • Work RVU:  1.92
  • Expense RVU:  0.59
  • Malpractice RVU;  0.13
The sum of these is 2.64. Given a RVU conversion factor of, say, $36.87, the fee would be $97.34. If this service is expected to prevent 50 RVUs of future work for 1% of the people who receive the service, then the value is an additional 0.5. With time value of money, the 0.5 may be discounted at the relevant risk-free rate over the expected timeline. Imagine this lowers the savings to 0.4.

Adding this new fourth component to the existing three gets an RVU total of 3.04, for a fee of $112.08.
This method aligns physician incentives directly with payor incentives, and can be modified as the assumptions of prevention change.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Are Term Limits Backwards?

A standard response to term-limits advocates in America is that the ballot box already provides the means to remove elected officials. If you dislike your congressman, then you do have a say. But what about the other 434? You have no say in their districts. Dislike Nancy Pelosi or Eric Cantor? Too bad, you don't get to vote against them even though make policy that directly affects you. What if 434 members decided to gang up on the 1 other member and split the pork? Or 433:2, or 432:3, or 218:217? So much for the ballot box defense.

When it comes to the presidency or the governorship, we do all get to have our say. The ballot box would seem to be a viable option for removing these types of office-holder. Strangely though, these offices do have term limits.

Why is it seemingly backwards? There's probably a Federalist Paper on it.

Monday, October 29, 2012

It's All Good: Bad Lobbying

A weak lobbyist exhibits short-term thinking. He spends his time persuading the decision-maker that his side is wonderful and the other side is terrible. An expert lobbyist has a long-term strategy for his cause. He spends his time explaining both the pros and the cons because he knows his opposing lobbyist will bring up those cons.

"Senator, I've told you about all of the upside but I wanted to make you aware that the other side is claiming that the cost will be too high. Actually, this non-partisan study shows that it pays for itself over twelve months."
Now he has defused the opposing lobbyist's one-sided argument.

The business equivalent might be the act of reviewing the estimated financials of a potential investment. To show only the income would be as misleading as only showing the expenses. The informed investor wants to know both. Anyone who only gives one side loses credibility as an adviser.

A corollary tactic is to speak with the decision-maker after your weak opponent does. The idea being the weak lobbyist's one-sided pitch will be easy to knock down.

The goal is not to have the best perception possible after you're meeting, it's to have the better perception after the decision-maker walks away from the opposing lobbyist's meeting.

Only in circumstances where the opposition has no access should a lobbyist even consider this tactic. Even then, some sort of token cost-benefit discussion is needed to appear comprehensive.

President Obama's media strategy may have made this mistake in defining Mr. Romney in the worst-possible way. Since the campaign knew that Mr. Romney would have access to the electorate via paid media and public debates, it should have had a more balanced approach in order to be persuasive on Election Day. With the rise of early voting, the effects from the President's team's misstep may be mitigated since those voters presumably spent less time listening to the challenger.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Referee Size & Fouls

Soccer is a game with many split-second judgment calls made by a referee. Since there is variance whenever  a human makes decisions, it would be helpful for a coach to have insight on whether the referee calls a tight or loose game.

Without benefit of prior experience with a specific referee, what else can be done? One rough method is to see how physically large the referee is. One might imagine a larger ref growing up as a larger player who does not see tough play as much of a problem. Conversely, a smaller-sized official might be more sensitive to a physical style and call more fouls.

Definitely not Howard Webb
Obviously, there will be exceptions. I imagine Napoleon would have swallowed the whistle. But it beats flipping a coin.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Your Mom Goes to Middle School

It's natural to want to help your children succeed. One way to do that is to help them with their school assignments. To the extent the kid is further educated, this is a great activity. Some parents may be tempted to cross the line and actually do some of the work. As with many things, there could be gray areas where the parent corrects some homework problems that the student originally missed.

When a mom or dad goes to far, it shows up in the kid's grades unfairly. No one wants to discourage the at-home teaching moments though.

Maybe one solution would be to report student grades in two categories:  take-home assignments versus in-class assignments. This homework v. test GPA might help identify where more learning is taking place, and tease out the effect of parental involvement.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Gamblers Anonymous is for Losers

Visit your local country club and you might be tempted to draw inferences about what traits lead to financial success. You might walk away thinking that risk-taking is the key. This is misleading, since you are only looking at the risk-takers whose risks paid off.

The key distinction, it seems, is to determine whether a certain choice will increase the expected value or just the variance. For example, imagine twenty fraternity brothers on a high-roller roulette website. Each sells his Tahoe and combines his student loan money to form a pot of $62,500 per brother. After four red/black bets letting it ride, one of these guys is probably a millionaire. If all of the guys who win this get together and form a club, then it would look like reckless roulette is the key to riches. You don't see the nineteen losers this way.

So how to tease out the true traits that lead to higher expected wealth? Visit both clubs: the winners' club and the losers' club; see which traits that the winners have that the losers do not have. These are the traits to emulate.

This idea reminds me of the distinction made between value transference and value creation by Half Sigma.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Mumble Mumble

Historically, some have stereotyped the British as being reserved and having bad teeth. To the extent there is some truth here, could one have caused the other?

Maybe a person with bad teeth is prone to not smiling and speaking loudly. He might come across as reserved.

Alternatively, maybe a person who is reserved has less incentive to care for his teeth. Potential mates may not care as much, if the teeth won't be often seen.

What may have happened is that these two traits survive better as a pair than each in isolation. A symbiotic relationship, like, um, a lichen.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Airport Security & Profiling

Airport security has a tough job. 99.999999% of passengers pose no threat. A terrorist attack hurts American morale more than it gets boosted from an averted attack. Reminds me of a soccer goalie:  a wonderful save gets lets hoopla than a goal scored at the other end, although they have the same net effect on the score-sheet.

Banned from profiling based on the demographics of prior perpetrators, security is limited to treating every passenger with the same routine or with the same chance of an enhanced routine. Is this a good thing? Think of the quantity of available security energy that can be allocated among passengers. Every unit spent on a low risk passenger is effectively taken from the extra time that could have been spent on a high risk passenger. Deciding who is a higher or lower risk is easier said than done though, right?

Each airport has its average demographic mix of passengers. Pretend that Martians have been the demographic group with the most attackers. At the same time, Martian attackers make up only a sliver of all Martians. If Martians are typically 15%-16% of the airport's daily passenger mix, then there is no signal of anything askew. When this % rises, perhaps the airport could spend more time on this demographic since something out of the ordinary is occurring. The idea being that attackers would be additive to the typical mix.

Knowing this, a would-be attacker would have to leave his abettors behind in order to minimize his chance of being detected.Otherwise the demographic spike would alert authorities. Alternatively, he could bring in abettors of different demographics but that seems unlikely due to how affinity groups are often composed. This leaves him more vulnerable to obstacles such as fisticuffs and second doubts. Not foolproof by any stretch, but an improvement in an area where every edge counts.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Criss Angel, Swamp Fox

I wonder whether a magician might have some interesting thoughts on military formations and tactics.

The way tricks depend on the audience's perspective to conceal what's really happening reminds me of an army unit trying to stay in defilade.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

NFL Referees & IRS Agents

Do you agree that the U.S. tax code is convoluted?
Do you think the solution is hiring better IRS agents?

The National Football League is under fire for not agreeing to terms with its top referees. As a result, the back-up refs have been involved in several controversies.

Many commentators have been quick to blame the replacement refs, but how can they be expected to perform at the same level as the fully trained professionals? Perhaps the root cause is more fundamental. The NFL has a kazillion rules in its rule book. New rules and complexity are added each year. Ironically the more "just" the rules become, the harder they become to adjudicate appropriately. This complexity mirrors the federal tax code. The response in this context is often to call for streamlined rules, not better IRS agents. Maybe the league can understand the true culprit is reliance on a system that only a small cadre of experts can maintain. cf. Leviticus

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Healthcare Delivery, or "I Hope My Podiatrist Knows the Formula for Focal Length of a Spherical Mirror"

If you agree that a system in constantly in flux and then freeze the current best practices, then you should not be surprised when the system has changed enough to where there are new best practices. The problem is the degree to which the current best practices are frozen. When it comes to the delivery of health care, this freeze comes from tactics such as regulation, certificates of need, credentialing, education requirements, and limited medical school admissions. Think those are easy to change?

I imagine a future where division of labor leads to specialization and greater efficiency:

You suspect an injury or illness and contact a Care Coordinator (CC).  The CC sets you up with a Diagnostic Specialist (DS), who is steeped in symptom recognition, testing, and decision-tree diagnosing. The DS diagnoses a kidney stone and creates a treatment plan for you.

The CC sets you up an appointment at the "hospital" with the kidney stone specialist, who treats and was trained on only this family of problems. The CC later follows up with you to ensure you are satisfied. If an emergency happened during the treatment, an Emergency Specialist (ES) would be alerted to stabilize you.

This scenario is over-simplified of course, but it illustrates how specialization creates experts. These specialists/experts do not need to have gone to college for a decade either. Do you care whether your cataract specialist missed classes that discussed knee anatomy? Do you want to pay extra for a podiatry specialist that is knowledgeable on the reproductive system?

Earlier doctors had to be generalists. Today's specialists are really generalists AND specialists. Reminds me of what Mitt Romney said about how he wanted to go to business school while his father wanted him to go to law school:  he compromised and went to both.

In this scenario, training would be radically shorter but radically more focused. Many more people would be qualified to be a specialist. So you would have higher quality (more experts), a larger labor force, and lower cost (wasteful college and training time). This is not to say that there is no place for generalists (a DS would need massive training), just that not everyone needs to be one.

Too bad the medical profession froze its best practices. At least it waited until after the era of phrenology and leeches.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

A Perfect B+ on your Econ Test

Dear Professors Tyler CowenGreg Mankiw, and Mike Shor (economists with interesting blogs):

If a student gets a perfect 100% on your Econ 101 test, then should you deduct for not understanding diminishing marginal returns as it relates to studying? You could change the grading system to be

Final Score = 100 - | 90* - Score |

*Adjust the "90" upward if the student can prove s/he has a boring life.
Rocky VII < Econ 101

Tuition is Unemployment Insurance (for other people)

What would happen to a labor market if the 5% least skilled potential workers voluntarily did not seek employment?

  • The number of unemployed job seekers would drop significantly.
  • The unemployment rate would likely drop (it's a ratio so this isn't a guarantee since there could be a scenario where unskilled labor is in high demand theoretically; probably correct due to minimum wage laws though).
  • The least efficient workers would likely have a better lifestyle, since their returns are relatively low when compared to effort.
These are some rosy results.
Four more years!

Enacting this scenario would have some requirements though, such as the following:
  • The 5% would need a way to remove the social stigma of not working and receiving subsidies.
  • The 5% would need to stay occupied in a fulfilling way to avoid being a further drag on society (idle hands and all).
  • The 5% would need to be subsidized somehow.
We have this system already. This social program is commonly referred to as "college." Workers are taxed to give money in various forms to educational institutions and to subsidize student loans to 18-23 year olds who are kept busy with homework and tests. These students may have tremendous potential, but it is still latent at this point (for the most part). Absent this government transfer of wealth, the number of enrolled students would surely drop. Why? If college is a great investment, then private companies would loan money at the subsidized interest rate levels anyway. They didn't (when they could), so there must be some questionable risky loans underwritten by taxpayers. The program is an overall drain on the economy; that's hard to argue. The political question is whether the net cost is worth the reduced variation in outcomes. Or, in other words, is the unemployment insurance policy worth the premiums?

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Hire the Uglier Model, Part 2

An earlier post, Hire the Uglier Model, encouraged evaluation of two similar job candidates by choosing which one had more to overcome. Hiring managers typically take the opposite tack and select the candidate with more accolades. One way to think about this is with some basic geometry:

A candidate's status can be thought of as dependent upon how fast he develops, how many years he's had to develop, and how much of a headstart he had in life. This can be written as follows:

Development_Status = Development_Rate x Time + Headstart

If you think of this as a line equation ( y = mx + b ), then you can plot the respective lines of two candidates and make an estimate of future success. I'll use some unspecified units for both Development Status and Time (all that matters is the relationship between the two candidate's values, not the units per se).

So take two candidates, each with the same Development Status after 25 Time units have elapsed. They have equal Status right now. However big candidate A's headstart was, it must have been offset by candidate B's superior Development Rate. Since you are hiring based on expected future prowess, candidate B is more likely to exhibit this since he has overcome B's headstart hurdle and has now leveled the playing field, ready to leave B in the dust. Yes, there are other factors to consider (diminishing returns, non-linearity, etc.), but B is a better pick, ceteris paribus.

There is evidence that some top firms have figured this out. Lara Stone is on Vogue covers; Stacy Keibler is not.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Now Hiring Amish Database Administrators, Inquire Within

Priest / Referee / Judge
No surprise that a candidate's morality is a crucial component to hiring someone for these jobs. But what about a database administrator?

Think about delivering business intelligence from a data warehouse as an assembly line:

  1. Query the database for the raw records
  2. Analyze the records
  3. Create report from the analysis
  4. Create action plan from the report
If you want to know what exactly happened during step 2, you could compare the changes from steps 1 and 3 to see what's different. Same with knowing what step 3 entailed. Comparing step 3 to the final product lets you see what went on during step 4. The ONLY step without transparency is step 1. That's where integrity comes in. Unless you plan a major project to test whether your database administrator is displaying honesty and competency, the best solution is to hire one with good morals*.

No post-modern DBAs need apply.

*What are good morals? From the film K-Pax:Dr. Mark Powell:  How do you know right from wrong?
Prot:  Every being in the universe knows right from wrong, Mark.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Would you brush all but one tooth just to know how much brushing has helped?

Thou Shalt Have a Control Group is a popular refrain in analytics. But is a controlled experiment always worth it?

As William Coyne said, "[A]fter you plant a seed in the ground, you don't dig it up every week to see how it is doing."

You may want to spend an amount of money optimally, but you have a control group designed not to do anything differently. That control group has some elements that you would want to spend money on. This lends itself to a modified Heisenberg uncertainty principle:  you cannot optimize and be sure you have optimized simultaneously. Or more familiarly:  if you're the best, you'll never know it. A setback for narcissists.

What's 20120768 minus 20120755? Weakness.

A firm's leverage with a supplier is often based on how much of the supplier's revenue pie the firm represents. This leverage can express itself in ways such as bargaining power and prioritization.

Since this leverage comes from the point of view of the supplier, the firm may not directly know its relative importance. One proxy is to look at the invoice numbers that the supplier sends you. If the numbering scheme appears sequential then you have an idea of how many other invoices the supplier has sent out since your last invoice. Conversely, a shrewd supplier should obscure its invoice numbering scheme to minimize this leak.

The Message is the Medium

Shaq knows.
Why should you read?

Does the medium really matter? Is the written medium better than other media?

When you hear others talk, you are likely hearing their average thoughts (or within a reasonable range of average). When you read others' writings, you are often hearing their best thoughts (or what they believe them to be).

So reading may not be important per se; however, it is a strong indicator that the underlying content is much stronger.

Listen to me.

Thursday, August 9, 2012


Tika-Taka. That's the name of F.C Barcelona and Spain's soccer teams' style of play. Essentially, it means playing keep-away for long stretches of time until the opponent gets out of defensive position (often from frustration or fatigue from chasing the ball). It would be hard to argue that these teams aren't excelling with this style:  both have won nearly every trophy available over the last few years.

But are they playing optimally? Could they be even better?

A digression. Elite basketball coaches in the U.S. have adopted a mindset whereby they look at statistics on a per-possession basis. Maybe your team has been scoring 1.1 points per offensive possession, while your opponent has been scoring 0.9. You're a better team, assuming similar prior competition. The only problem is that these are just the averages. On any given set of plays, there could be a wide variation...someone banks in a bad three-pointer, etc. But as more and more possessions take place, these blips should wash out to the 0.9 and 1.1 averages. So each team's strategies suggest themselves:  the better team wants lots of possessions; the other team wants fewer possessions. "Possessions" mean trips down the court, not time with the ball.

Back to the beautiful game. Soccer strategy can change dramatically once the first goal is made, since a lesser team can often set up shop on defense knowing it is not necessary to score again (maybe). But for the aim of scoring the first goal, soccer's analog to # of possessions is # of times the ball is within, say, 25 yards of the goal. In this case, the superior team would want to create as many chances as possible. To do so, the players must minimize the time spent doing unproductive things. Even thirty extra seconds could lead to one more opportunity that notches a goal.

Of course, the method in which the ball reaches 25 yards of goal matters. If your per-possession stats are based on quality approaches then that's what you'll need to continue doing. Wasted time can be shaved off during restarts, limiting back-and-forth kicks among the fullbacks, winning turnovers as high up the field as possible, etc. Playing faster is another option; so is adding players with good long-range shooting to extend the 25 yard zone. A team can even make a trade-off if rushing an attack hurts its chance of scoring by 8% but it gets to try 10% more often.

The better team will go high-pressure defensively and minimize wasted time to attack as often as possible while the underdog is still trying to balance out offensive and defensive priorities.After scoring a goal, the team can sink back into playing keep-away to reduce the number of opportunities for the opponent.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

What's Your Major, Governor?

Why do colleges charge the same amount of money per credit hour, regardless of the specific course?

Does Econ 101 provide the same value as Econ 301?
Does Econ 301 provide the same value as insert-easy-to-make-fun-of-class-here?
This can be extended to groups of courses, or majors.

Is a B.A. in History worth the same as a B.S. in Engineering?

Maybe. But if not, then why should a student expect to pay the same amount?
Wouldn't it be logical for a student to take more of the "undervalued courses," which in this case would mean the more useful courses (since the cost is a push)? It seems there is a forked path for students:  one way (COAST) is to get a degree with the least effort possible, expecting the credential per se to be sufficient; the other way (STRIVE) is to shoot the moon and get an intense education that likely leads to an elite graduate school.

If true, one would expect a split rush toward the easiest classes and the hardest classes while ignoring the middle road as much as possible. Is this why we have both so many law students and so many non-mentally-taxing degreed grads?

A student may not be able to do much about this strange flat-pricing per credit hour system. But a government can. A governor could decide to vary the students' tuition subsidies based on some ranking on what classes/majors are most important to the public good.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Are All State Colleges Above Average?

Does your state have particular expertise at running colleges? Maybe so, but some states surely do not. The National Center for Education Statistics estimates that states subsidize $19,200 per student.

A state can decide it is good public policy to subsidize higher education for its citizens. If so, the state faces a decision on how best to deliver. States commonly subsidize tuition for students at state-run colleges.

One perfectly valid option is to give the $19,200 to the student for use at any credentialed college anywhere, public or private. The National Bureau of Economic Research estimates that 29% of students would select a private school instead. Surely some percentage would opt for a public school in another state.

One historical objective of limiting the subsidy to in-state public schools is to keep the educated citizens in the state. Brain Drain. To meet this objective, the state could require a graduate move back to his original state for a certain period, or else the subsidy becomes a loan. A state might even get out of the college business altogether and distribute the savings to students for use as tuition elsewhere.

Clearly states are not likely to take this radical step, especially the ones that are better at football.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Garfield Minus Garfield Plus Dexter

What an inspired idea! Garfield the cat only makes commentary in thought bubbles, so the man in the cartoon is the only one actually speaking; he must be imagining the cat's comments. Remove the cat's imaginary words, and you can see the reality:

Garfield Minus Garfield is a site dedicated to removing Garfield from the Garfield comic strips in order to reveal the existential angst of a certain young Mr. Jon Arbuckle. It is a journey deep into the mind of an isolated young everyman as he fights a losing battle against loneliness and depression in a quiet American suburb.
I have watched the show Dexter and thought how boring and tame Dexter must seem to his co-workers. His pithiness, keen observations, and insightful remarks are often buried in his inner monologue. The DVD set should have a bonus feature that lets the viewer experience Dexter as his friends might. That should really highlight the contrast of his true self.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Truth in Interviewing

One weakness of the classic job interview is that the applicant can tailor his answers as to appear that he is interested, competent, and would be committed to the position if hired.

What if the company's name and the specific position were not known by the applicant?

A placement firm could film interviews with candidates and questions that reveal fit and style. Companies could then feel better about getting closer to truth. That way the applicant couldn't tell Software, Inc. that he enjoys researching by himself while also telling Branding, LLC that he works best in an open, teamwork environment. Might as well be truthful so that a good match is made. This reminds me of the transition when politicians could tell voters in different cities opposite platforms, then mass media came about and required a consistent answer.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Euro Soccer, Separated at Birth

The Euro soccer tournament has been exciting to watch. There are a few players who may have been separated at birth though.

Spain's Xavi // Robert Downey, Jr.

Italy's Gianluigi Buffon // Al Pacino

Italy's Mario Balotelli // Kordell Stewart

Germany's Michael Ballack // Matt Damon

Spain's Cesc Fabregas // Fred Savage


Spain's Coach Vicente Del Bosque // Bernie

Italy's Andrea Pirlo // Steve Nash

Hire the Uglier Model

Hedge funds look for mispriced assets. Billy Beane popularized a similar mindset for evaluating baseball players. Some organizations in other industries have used a similar method for getting ahead. For example, in this Slate story, George Mason University hired conservative faculty members--the idea being that academia is generally hostile to conservative thinkers, so the ones who have shown success must be very strong to overcome the barriers.

Susan Cain's book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can't Stop Talking details a similar occurrence with introverted people. She explains how our culture undervalues people with traits more suited to listening, thoughtfulness, and introspection.

Maybe there's a model here. Regardless of realm, identify a system that treats a portion of its people consistently unfairly. Given two candidates with similar credentials, hire the person from the unfair channel. Put this way, it may seem too self-evident to have any insight value. But consider what is regarded today: the longer the list of impressive institutions, the better.

An example with two people:  Candidate A attended the most elite schools from pre-K through prep. With rich parents, A spends his free time on music lessons, travel sports, foreign languages, and world travel. Candidate B grew up solidly middle-class (or to quote Homer Simpson, "upper-lower-middle class"). Both candidates got great GPAs and SATs and attended the same top 10 college. Upon graduation, it is safe to say that Candidate B has accomplished more, given the extra hurdles. To think otherwise would be like comparing the power of two cars by only looking at the mileage covered, instead of then dividing by hours. We should care about mph, not m, when estimating future value. Job interviews will ask not only about your output, but also the input it took to get that output.

When hiring two similarly successful...
salesmen, pick the quieter one.
models, pick the uglier one.
power forwards, pick the shorter one.
researchers, pick the dumber one.
graduates, pick the poorer one.

You won't just be giving charity, you'll most likely get an undervalued asset while your competition pays for an overvalued one. It's fiscally irresponsible to do otherwise.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Deductible Insurance

Are you familiar with community rating in health insurance? Basically, your premium is set at an average instead of being lowered if you are relatively healthy. Let's say that Jane has a high deductible policy and I happen to know that she is very healthy and her expected healthcare utilization is low. I could promise to pay her deductible (when needed) in exchange for a small monthly payment. Do the math right and she can avoid paying a big deductible while I receive more in payments than I'll have to spend on her deductible.

This product would be called insurance deductible insurance. Catchy.

Maybe there's a law against this?

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

NFL Head Coach Value?

Disclaimer:  I have never played organized American football, although I am a fan and have watched many games.

What is the role of the NFL head coach? First, let's be clear on why I limit this to the NFL:  head coaches have important recruiting roles in college sports. This is not the case in the NFL. The major areas of responsibility are as follows:

  1. offensive play-calling
  2. defensive play-calling
  3. special teams play-calling
  4. timeouts
  5. instant replay requests
  6. practice planning
  7. game planning
  8. hiring/firing

As best I can tell, 1 and 2 are run by the offensive and defensive coordinators; the head coach can overrule a coordinator, but if the head coach is a better play-caller then he should call all of the plays. 3 is basically a subset of either offense or defense. 4 is almost a science based on clock, score, and field position. 5 is best requested from the booth, where the assistants have their own televisions. 6 is typically run by position specialists. 7 is basically a grouping of offensive plays and defensive plays (e.g., let's run the ball early, then throw an occasional deep ball; let's sit back most of the time, then blitz when #80 comes in).

This leaves #8. You would have to analyze why each play succeeded or failed and see where the breakdown occurred. Comparing these breakdown stats to a benchmark would help show who who is over-performing. A report could say that a certain play is expected to gain 4.5 yards, with a 1 yard standard deviation, while the actual average was 5.7 yards. The next step would be to attribute the improvement or decline to certain factors.

But wait. Isn't the role of the GM (general manager), often a successful ex-coach to handle hiring/firing? If the GM is excellent at this, then maybe he could handle hiring and firing assistant coaches as well.

As usual, maybe there is another factor at work. Maybe the coach serves the role as speculator, taking on the reputation risk for the team owners and executives who are interested in having long-term careers. The big shots sell their short-term accountability to the coach, who is richly rewarded when things go well and quickly shown the door when they don't. A coach with a good track record may actually just be good at one thing:  identifying which teams are set up for success already.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Tips & ZIPs

When a ZIP code is required, why is the city and state also? What if they disagree? It there is a tiebreaker field, then only that field would matter. If it's for smudges or legibility, then have me write the ZIP twice, just as one might verify an email address. I understand that ZIP codes are not geographical spaces, but sets of mail routes that resemble polygons, so maybe the reason lies in that twist.

Similarly, why ask for a tip amount and the total bill amount? I saw a friend once write in a total amount, then put "math" in the tip line. Even better, why not just ask me what % or $ to leave. This would be easier, but maybe the register software isn't yet capable.

Elite Colleges and the Value Chain

The question often arises whether an elite education is worth the cost. There are plenty of studies and stories that quantify the net impact. But these studies typically assume the student attends/graduates.

What if we un-bundle the activity? Broadly:  acceptance, education, and networking. We can consider this a type of value chain, and efficient-market theory says it should all add up in the end (-ish).

Imagine a high school senior who gets accepted to, say, Williams or Princeton. The student may now claim this distinction, with minimal cost. A few hundred dollars in application fees, perhaps. Maybe an extra thousand or two in test prep. A clever self-promoter might even position himself as deliberately foregoing college to do something even better (Bill Gates, LeBron James).

Since the student does not have to attend once accepted, the education and networking valuations should be done marginally (ignoring the acceptance value). Can the process of undergraduate learning be that different from the highest to lowest ranked colleges? Does a lower ranked school withhold information? Presumably, the classes are fairly introductory and the ones that are in-depth usually fit into a pathway for a graduate school curriculum. Quality of teacher is not what determines the school's ranking, since publishing is paramount. Further, teaching as a skill may in fact be easier when students are more intelligent; the best teachers may actually add the most value with students of lesser aptitude. I don't want to rehash the debate; let's just stipulate that the variance in the ability of professors to impart facts and thought processes is less than the variance in tuition (Do you learn twelve times as much at a $60k school versus a $5k one?). If this is correct, then the extra value must come from some other factor(s).

If student A relies on his classmates to pull him ahead in the workforce, then A is not likely to be one of the top tier students. Same for student B, student C, and the other non-top tier students. So networking may, in fact, be a drain on top tier students themselves. Take from the few, give to the many; this works when you're behind a veil and don't know which group you are in to start with. So there's probably some value in networking to most students, but not all, and the net effect may even be a wash since the value is being redistributed.

There may be another factor that explains the extra value then. One thought is that the undergraduate degree is a qualifier for graduate school. An elite degree is a near requirement for elite grad school admittance. Now, that's life-changing value.

If this overall analysis is accurate, then what should a rational teenager do? The value chain above suggests two optimal branches. If grad school is in your future, then go all-in and graduate. If it's not, then get an admittance letter to a top school and then get a cheaper education or use that letter to go get a good job. (The symmetry here is that an employer would want the admitted student who sees better than to overpay for education itself.)

As always, I'm sure I haven't thought of every nuance so consider this kindling.

Friday, June 22, 2012


I'm trying to understand the distinction between payday loan shops and Nobel Peace Prize recipient Muhammad Yunus's Grameen Bank.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Left Backs & Right Wingers (soccer)

Conventional wisdom holds that the best wingers play on the right side of midfield on a soccer team. To combat this, the left back position has required higher skill. Thus has arisen the left back's prominence.

Maybe it's all backward and for a subtle reason...
Assistant referees (ARs) roam half the touchline, but do not cross midfield. They always stay on the right half of the field, from the perspective of one facing the field. Thus, the ARs are often very near the left back and far away from the right back. The right back then has more license to practice the dark arts of harsher play. The left back has no such leeway, so must have a superior mix of athleticism and technique. This would be true at all ages and levels of competition. So growing up, a right winger would face better defensive competition and enjoy the benefits of faster development.

Sherlock Holmes, on his brother

All other men are specialists, but his specialism is omniscience.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Utility Paradox

Even ardent capitalist libertarians surely feel a little wince when a business event leads to a firing or pay-cut to the little guy while the rich owner gets a big bonus. Why?

Maybe it's because we think "dollars" but feel "utility." The marginal utility of your fifty millionth dollar is surely much smaller than that of your fiftieth dollar. Looked at this way, the business event creates wealth (through productivity gains) but destroys utility. I would estimate that the marginal utility of a dollar has only a gradual slope downward until it drops sharply once the amount reaches two years of expected pay. My SWAG.

How do you get around this paradox? Do the deal and take the productivity gain in dollars, then share a piece with the utility-loser? Why?

Absolute Value

Dear atheist:
"Untrue" is not a synonym for "bad." Even if you are right, religion could be offsetting some other trait that is mis-valued in the other direction. Like underestimating hope. Two offsetting transactions in the ledger.
Technically, I guess you could attempt to persuade others simultaneously that there's no god and also that we should be more hopeful. Good luck.

One Way to Avoid Loneliness

I think some people try to stay in grief so that they don't have to go to the loneliness stage.

Or as the poet Kurt Cobain said, "I miss the comfort in being sad."

You're Pretty

the art turns to look at you.

Philip Larkin Quote

The trees are coming into leaf
Like something almost being said

Street Charity

Decent people want to help others in need. How can you identify who is truly needy and will use your dollar for improvement, as opposed to buying drugs?

Call one true beggar and one deceptive beggar. Giving $1 to deceptive beggar means he gets more drugs, while true beggar goes without. You get a good feeling, but the outcome hurts others -- very similar to the definition of "selfish."

If one in four are true, while the other three are deceptive, then you would have to give four times the intended donation and be willing to hurt three other people in order to help one.

However, if you try to estimate need based on external clues then it may encourage victimhood or "looking needy" on purpose. It seems the best solution is to have someone who knows the most about the beggars allocate the funding. This is probably neither you nor faceless government. It is a local charity.

Favorite Words & Not



Float On

What if you filled the empty part of a semi-trailer with helium? Would it lower the tire friction enough to offset the helium cost?