Sports economics puzzle of the day

Friday, April 30th, 2004

Sports economics puzzle of the day addresses “the old sports chestnut: why is soccer not a major professional sport in America?”:

It seems easy enough to add commercials when the ball goes out of bounds. And we have plenty of land for soccer fields. Maybe soccer is too boring on television, but hey (no brickbats please) what about baseball? Could it be that soccer is too hard to describe on radio, noting that this medium drove the initial popularity of baseball?

I have the vague intuition that soccer is too “working class” for the non-unionized United States, but it is hard to go far with this hypothesis.

My best shot at an answer was the following: Americans prefer professional sports where they know (or feel) that they are the best in the world. This applies to baseball, football, and basketball, the major professional sports in the United States. At tennis we are no joke. Chess became massively popular, but only briefly, when Bobby Fischer defeated Boris Spassky.

The implicit prediction, of course, is that basketball will decline in popularity.

Marine Corps Snipers Aim to Strike Fear

Thursday, April 29th, 2004

Marine Corps Snipers Aim to Strike Fear interviews a Marine sniper in Fallouja:

‘It’s a sniper’s dream,’ he said in polite, matter-of-fact tones. ‘You can go anywhere and there are so many ways to fire at the enemy without him knowing where you are.’

Their equipment:

Marine sniper teams are spread in and around the city, working night and day, using powerful scopes, thermal imaging equipment and specially modified bolt-action rifles that allow them to identify and target armed militants from 800 yards or more.
[...]
The sniper rifle, a M-40A3, is a bolt-action model specially assembled at the Marine Corps armory in Quantico, Va. The scope magnifies to the 10th power.

Fairly gruesome:

Weapons change, but the goal of the sniper remains the same: harass and intimidate the enemy, make him afraid to venture into the open, deny him the chance to rest and regroup.

The Marines believe their snipers have killed hundreds of insurgents, though that figure alone does not accurately portray the significance of sniping. A sign on the wall of sniper school at Camp Pendleton displays a Chinese proverb: “Kill One Man, Terrorize a Thousand.”

“Sometimes a guy will go down, and I’ll let him scream a bit to destroy the morale of his buddies,” said the Marine corporal. “Then I’ll use a second shot.”
[...]
Although official policy discourages Marines from keeping a personal count of those they have killed, the custom continues. In nearly two weeks of conflict here, the corporal from a Midwestern city has emerged as the top sniper, with 24 confirmed kills. By comparison, the top Marine Corps sniper in Vietnam had 103 confirmed kills in 16 months.

(Hat tip to the Belmont Club.)

Marines in Fallujah appear ‘geared up’

Thursday, April 29th, 2004

Marines are hard core. From CNN.com – Reporter: Marines in Fallujah appear ‘geared up’:

There were two that had gunshot wounds. And they pulled a huge slug, a bullet, out of the leg of one of the Marines. And another one had a bullet wound right through the back.

And, amazingly, they were trying to convince their commanders that they were ready to go and go back out. I have been really surprised at … the high degree of morale that these Marines have shown.

Marines in Fallujah appear ‘geared up’

Thursday, April 29th, 2004

Marines in Fallujah appear ‘geared up’ reports back an interview with Marines on how they have adapted to Iraq — and to Improvised Explosive Devices:

There have been so many explosions and casualties and injuries caused to Americans by these types of weapons that, in some cases, U.S. forces here, especially the Marines, have actually begun to modify their armor.

They’re now using the — they’re now using Kevlar shoulder patches and shoulder guards to cover the parts of the extremities that are particularly prone to getting injured when some these IEDs and roadside bombs explode. They’re using now new ballistic glasses which have become standard issue. And they have made orders for thousands of these in the last couple of months to make sure — because they were seeing so many eye injuries from these things.

Is the welfare state good for growth?

Thursday, April 29th, 2004

Tyler Cowen’s Is the welfare state good for growth? examines Peter H. Lindert’s Why the Welfare State Looks Like a Free Lunch, which makes a few interesting points. First, an unexpected fact:

Whatever one might have thought, the smaller-government countries such as Japan, the United States, Switzerland, Canada, and Australia tax capital and private property at least as heavily as the welfare states of Scandinavia, Germany or the Netherlands.

Second, a potential explanation for why welfare states might tax and spend a bit more wisely:

The higher the social budget as a share of GDP, the higher and more visible is the cost of a bad choice.

If you can stomach an econ research paper, read the whole thing.

The House Doesn’t Always Win When It Comes to Investing

Thursday, April 29th, 2004

The House Doesn’t Always Win When It Comes to Investing, because real estate doesn’t typically appreciate much. Instead it pays off a dividend — you get to live there:

Folks think the real-estate game is all about price appreciation. But in reality, long-run gains have been fairly modest, with home prices outpacing inflation by just 1.2 percentage points a year since 1975.

Instead, the big benefit of home ownership comes from the dividend, which is the ability to collect rent or to live rent-free

Remodeling doesn’t typically pay for itself in dollars and cents, but in “imputed rent”:

Typically, homeowners get back 70 or 80 cents for every $1 they spend. The other 20 or 30 cents? That’s gone.

Don’t they hold bake sales any more?

Thursday, April 29th, 2004

Tyler Cowen’s Don’t they hold bake sales any more? points to an article on Norwegian high school girls paying for their graduation highjinks:

It is a Norwegian tradition that high school seniors, so-called russ, throw themselves into a month of partying to celebrate the fact that 13-years of schooling is drawing to an end. Many graduating russ buy old vans or buses which they drive during the month of partying, but everything has its costs and it is far from cheap. It’s common for students to acquire sponsorships from local business by putting their logos on their means of transportation in order to help finance their partying.

The girls have signed a contract with 21-year-old porn star Thomas Rocco Hansen to tape a scene for a porn film in their own bus as they lack other types of sponsorships to finance their party costs. They are also going to be interviewed regarding their sexual habits and sex fantasies. The girls will be paid about NOK 20,000 (USD 2900).

Zombie Infection Simulation

Monday, April 26th, 2004

You can find anything on the Net, including a Zombie Infection Simulation (implemented in Java):

Zombies are grey, move very slowly and change direction randomly and frequently unless they can see something moving in front of them, in which case they start walking towards it. After a while they get bored and wander randomly again.

If a zombie finds a human directly in front of it, it infects them; the human immediately becomes a zombie.

Humans are pink and run five times as fast as zombies, occasionally changing direction at random. If they see a zombie directly in front of them, they turn around and panic.

Panicked humans are bright pink and run twice as fast as other humans. If a human sees another panicked human, it starts panicking as well.

There’s also an advanced version, with humans who catch on to the zombie threat and start to fight back.

XM-25 Grenade Launcher

Friday, April 23rd, 2004

The XM-25 Grenade Launcher was originally one of two weapons (the other being a 5.56mm rifle, now known as the XM-8) incorporated in the 18 pound XM-29 OICW. Rather than fire small lead rounds, it fires fairly large “smart shells”:

The 20mm and 25mm “smart shells” use a computer controlled fuze in each shell. The M-25 or M-307 operator can select four different firing modes via a selector switch on the weapon. The four modes include “Bursting” (airburst). For this to work, the soldier first finds the target via the weapons sighting system. This includes a laser range finder and the ability to select and adjust the range shown in the sight picture. For an air burst the soldier aims at an enemy position and fires a round. The shell is optimized to spray incapacitating (wounding or killing) fragments in a roughly six meter radius from the exploding round. Thus if enemy troops are seen moving near trees or buildings at a long distance (over 500 meters), the weapon has a good chance of getting them with one shot. M-16s are not very accurate at that range, and the enemy troops will dive for cover as soon as M-16 bullets hit around them. With smart shells, you get one (or a few) accurate shots and the element of surprise.

The other modes are “PD” (point detonation, where the round explodes on contact), PDD (point detonation delay, where the round detonates immediately after it has gone through a door, window or thin wall) and “Window”, which is used for firing at enemy troops in a trench, behind a stone wall or inside a room. The round detonates just beyond the aiming point. For buildings, this would be a window or door frame, cave entrance or the corner of a building (to get enemy troops thought to be around the corner.)

12.7mm M-16

Friday, April 23rd, 2004

The 12.7mm M-16 may be the perfect weapon for movie SWAT teams facing comicbook supervillains and/or supernatural horrors:

LW15.499 (Leitner-Wise Rifle Company) mini-.50 caliber (12.7mm) rifle is based on the M-16, but uses a shorter (than the standard .50 caliber) 12.7mm round. The mini-.50 rifles cost $1,450 to $2,250 each and weigh 6.3 pounds unloaded. The rifle is 36.2 inches long. Ammunition costs a 80 cents to five dollars a round (each one weighs about 1.1 ounces, with the most expensive ones being the armor piercing round). For a thousand bucks, you can get an upgrade kit for an AR-15 (the civilian version of the M-16). Fully loaded, with a ten round magazine, the weapon weighs about eight pounds.

German WWII Leaflets

Friday, April 23rd, 2004

Fascinating! The Nazis produced numerous propaganda leaflets for Allied troops, and a small collection of these German WWII Leaflets (from shortly after D-Day in 1944) have been scanned and put on-line.

Five questions for the American soldier:
  1. Are you certain of finding a job if you have the good luck to get back to the States safe and sound from the war?
  2. Won’t the best jobs be held by those who were wiser than you and avoided taking part in the war?
  3. What security have you for your existence if you come back from the war sick, wounded, minus a limb or even blinded?
  4. Is your family sufficiently provided for if you are one of the many who will never see America again?
  5. Are your savings secure against the inflation which is threatening the USA as a result of the absurdly high war loans, or will you and your family be reduced to beggars after the war?

Choice Trumps Price on the Internet

Friday, April 23rd, 2004

Virginia Postrel’s latest article, Choice Trumps Price on the Internet examines a recent economic study, Consumer Surplus in the Digital Economy: Estimating the Value of Increased Product Variety at Online Booksellers and its implications:

In the article, the authors, all economists, estimate just how much better off consumers are because of the variety available online. They look specifically at “obscure titles,” books that rank below the top 100,000 in Amazon.com sales and probably would not be carried in a traditional bookstore. (The typical Barnes & Noble or Borders superstore carries about 100,000 titles, while large independent bookstores stock about 40,000.)

Using Amazon rankings and publisher data on 324 titles, the researchers determined that nearly half the book sales at Amazon, 46 percent in 2000, were of obscure titles.

They then “tried to calculate what people would have been willing to pay for these books versus what they actually did pay,” Professor Brynjolfsson explained. That’s the concept economists call “consumer surplus.” If you buy an ice cream cone for $2 but would have been willing to pay $5, you get $3 of consumer surplus.

By estimating what the demand curve for books looks like, using well-established techniques, the researchers could estimate the consumer surplus for all buyers in this market.

The results are striking. People are really happy to find obscure books, and would be willing to pay far more for them.

“The consumer surplus was about 70 percent of the purchase price for each book sold,” Professor Brynjolfsson said. “If a book was purchased for $20 on average, consumers would have been willing to pay on average up to $34.”

All those benefits add up to big money — around $1 billion in 2000. By comparison, Amazon’s lower prices saved consumers about $100 million that year.

“So they got about 10 times as much value from the selection as they got from the lower prices and competition,” Professor Brynjolfsson said. “An order of magnitude more value was created from the increased choice and selection.”

Autoimmune Disorders Treatable With Worms and Bacteria Wall Fragments

Friday, April 23rd, 2004

You probably thought leaching sounded bad. That’s not a parasite; this is a parasite! From Autoimmune Disorders Treatable With Worms and Bacteria Wall Fragments:

Some scientists have been advancing theories to explain some auto-immune disorders as being the result of lack of exposure to diseases that used to be common in the human past. Among the diseases suspected as being a consequence of lack of exposure to diseases are the painful digestive tract disorders inflammatory bowel disorder (IBD) and Crohn’s Disease. Joel Weinstock MD, a professor of internal medicine at University of Iowa, and colleagues have demonstrated that eggs of pig whipworm, when consumed by suffers of Crohn’s Disease (CD) and Ulcerative Colitis (UC), greatly reduce symptoms of those diseases.

School choice and school competition: Evidence from the United States

Friday, April 23rd, 2004

School choice and school competition: Evidence from the United States, a recent study by Caroline Hoxby, opens with this abstract:

The most frequently asked questions about school choice are: Do public schools respond constructively to competition induced by school choice, by raising their own productivity? Does students? achievement rise when they attend voucher or charter schools? Do voucher and charter schools end up with a selection of the better students (?cream-skim?)? I review the evidence on these questions from the United States, relying primarily on recent policy experiments. Public schools do respond constructively to competition, by raising their achievement and productivity. The best studies on this question examine the introduction of choice programs that have been sufficiently large and long-lived to produce competition. Students? achievement generally does rise when they attend voucher or charter schools. The best studies on this question use, as a control group, students who are randomized out of choice programs. Not only do currently enacted voucher and charter school programs not cream-skim; they disproportionately attract students who were performing badly in their regular public schools. This confirms what theory predicts: there are no general results on the sorting consequences of school choice. The sorting consequences of a school choice plan depend strongly on its design.

Did You Hear the One About the Salesman Who Traveled Better?

Friday, April 23rd, 2004

Mathematicians have been working on the so-called traveling salesman problem — what’s the shortest itinerary a salesman can follow to visit all the stops on his route? — for a long time, largely because it maps to so many other common problems. “Applications range from scheduling cable-TV service calls and routing parcel-delivery trucks to drilling holes in a circuit board, where you want to minimize how far the drill, like the salesman, must travel.” Did You Hear the One About the Salesman Who Traveled Better? also cites this interesting application:

An algorithm he developed for ILOG, which sells algorithm-packed custom software, tackled the National Football League’s 2004 schedule. He had to juggle 256 games among 32 teams, subject to multiple constraints. There had to be a nationally appealing game every Monday night and at least one must-see match-up every Sunday, for example, and he couldn’t send a team on the road for weeks at a time.

Dr. Lustig’s algorithm created thousands of schedules that fit these constraints in a fraction of the time it took by trial-and-error computing. Even better, it can tweak a schedule in less than a day if, say, the NFL decides that a Giants-Redskins game simply won’t do for Week 8 (it’s Week 2). In the past, making that change would produce a domino effect taking days to fix.

Many of the new algorithms rely on the interior-point method:

A linear programming method that achieves optimization by going through the middle of the solid defined by the problem rather than around its surface.

A polynomial time linear programming algorithm using an interior point method was found by Karmarkar (1984). Arguably, interior point methods were known as early as the 1960s in the form of the barrier function methods, but the media hype accompanying Karmarkar’s announcement led to these methods receiving a great deal of attention. However, it should be noted that while Karmarkar claimed that his implementation was much more efficient than simplex method, the potential of interior point method was established only later. By 1994, there were over 1300 published papers on interior point methods. Current efficient implementations are mostly based on Mehrotra’s predictor-corrector technique, where the Cholesky decomposition of the normal equation is used to perform the Newton iteration, together with some heuristics to estimate the penalty parameter. All current interior point methods implementations rely heavily on having very efficient code for sparse Cholesky decomposition.

I may have to break out my old linear programming text…and read a few new papers.