Archive for June, 2006

Foxwoods

June 29, 2006

I just got back from a trip to Destin Florida with my family. Destin has always been our family vacation spot and has great beaches if you ever get the chance. Last Saturday I had a flight out of Hartford leaving at 6AM. I flew out of Hartford because it was about $200 cheaper than Albany. That Friday before I left I was debating if I should drive up to Connecticut Friday night and get a hotel. The cheapest hotel I could find was $70 and considering I would only be there a matter of hours because I would need to be at the airport be 5AM I was struggling with dropping that much money. Driving up that morning/middle-of-the-night was also an option but that didn’t sound like much fun.

At about 4:30 that Friday an angel whose face I still have not seen walked into the my coworkers office across the hall. He suggested making a weekend trip to Foxwoods. For those of you who don’t know Foxwoods is the biggest casino in North America. I made up my mind if Gmap claimed it was less than an hour out of the way I would pull the trigger. ETA=57 mins. Bingo. I was no longer thinking pessimistically about the night.

I get to Foxwoods and it is incredible. Absolutely huge. I park in the parking garage and make a bee line to the casino. Over the course of the next couple of hours I so a handful of things that made me depressed that certain people find their ways into a casino. To me gambling is not necessarily a bad thing if you are doing it with dispensable income and if you give yourself a fighting chance by having a clue at the table. I make my way to the blackjack table to get started just like I always do. The cheapest blackjack table it $25. That’s a pretty rough minimum but I decide to give it a shot. Three hands, two losses and one win, and I decide I can’t stomach $25 hands of blackjack so I get up. During those three hands I saw the one things that frustrates me more than any other move in blackjack.

I’ll try not to get too deep into the rules of the game but idea is you try and get as close to 21 without going over. The dealer has to hit until 17 even if they have 16 and you have 12. As a result the dealer can have 6 results: 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, or bust. If you are going to stay with something below 17 you are basically throwing your cards away and betting that the dealer is going to bust which a lot of times is the right play.

Here is the situation, the dealer is showing a 10 and the guy next to me has a soft 16 (ace and a five). He decides to stay and tries to convince me that he likes to play conservatively. That wasn’t conservative that was just stupid. You see, with a 10 showing there is an 8/13 chance that the dealer already has 17-21. But even if that weren’t the case there is no harm in hitting a soft 16 because it is IMPOSSIBLE to bust. Absolute worst case scenario you hit and get a 6 and you have 12. Staying on 12 is the same as staying on 16 because they both mean you are throwing your hand away and betting the dealer busts. Stupidest play in blackjack and I wanted to tell him he deserved to lose his money but I didn’t.

After my three hands of blackjack I spent the rest of the night at the Craps and Roulette tables. While playing Roulette I saw two of the most stupid plays I have seen in that game. A guy rolls up to the table trying to look cool in his baggy jean shorts, sleeveless shirt, tattoed biceps, crooked designer hat, and sun glasses. He spreads $900 in twenty dollar bills and proceeds to put the better half on black and plays the rest aimlessly on random single numbers. Of course it hits a red number that he definetely is not betting on. Same thing, buys back in for $900 in twenties making a huge scene. Same betting strategy, same result. He sulks away and disappears into the crowd and I don’t feel a bit sorry for him. He showed up trying to look cool, bet like a fool, and walked away a loser.

The next guy buys in for big but opts to get $1 chips. He spreads out his bets covering every single number including the 0 and 00. Let me explain this. There are 36 numbers 1-36, half red and half black. There is also a 0 and 00. That totals 38 possible results of the wheel each of which pay 35:1 (read this is the house advantage). This guy puts bets on 38 numbers and yea he wins every time but he comes away with less money every time as well. You could buy 25,827,165 Texas lottery tickets and gaurantee a win but if the pay off is $4 million you are a sucker. That guy really thought he had the game figured out and I didn’t have the heart to break the news to him.

“A man’s gotta make atleast one bet a day, else he could be walking around lucky and never know it”

-hj

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Innovation=Juice

June 25, 2006

The other day I discovered a list that I wanted to see for a while now even though I didn’t even know it existed. That list was Business Week’s ranking of the 100 most innovative companies in the world. That list is important to me because innovation is what gives me juice. Outside-the-box type ideas that break rules are what get me going.

 

By Business Week’s measure Apple is the most innovative company in the world. My experiences with iTunes and other people’s iPods in combination with their new commercials are making me seriously consider making a Mac my next computer. The reasons not to? I haven’t used Macs before. Weak. They are different. Weak. I can’t think of a legit reason. iTunes and iPods are so Googleesque(who finished 2 by the way) in that they are so sleek, simple, and yet powerful.

The rest of the top ten went 3M, Toyota, Microsoft, General Electric, Proctor & Gamble, Nokia, Starbucks, and IBM. The past two summers I have worked in the oil industry and this summer I am at General Electric. I can testify that it is a complete 180 degree difference in working for one of the top innovative companies as opposed to working in an industry with only one company BP (41) in the top 50.

I broke the top 50 companies down by industry to see if there were any trends there. Automotive, computer software, and telecommunications tied for the most with 5 each, retail had 4, and computer hardware had 3. Most all the companies are household names. The ones in the top 50 I didn’t recognize were IDEO, Research in Motion (they make the Blackberries but I didn’t know them by that name), Ryanair, Tesco, Danone, WL Gore & Associates, and Bang & Olufsen.

To me this list is more important in deciding a company to work for than an Forbes 500 list or list sorted by revenue or profit.

-hj

Why is fiction so important?

June 24, 2006

Let me begin being by saying the purpose of this particular blog is to share some ideas but also to receive some feedback via comments or trackbacks.

I always hated reading as many people do. Growing up I never read and I always associated reading with being a pain. Over the past couple of years I have become a pretty avid reader. A majority of it is web-based content but I have read quite a few books as well. The conclusion I came to as to why I and many other people associated reading as being a pain is because for so long we were force fed fiction.

Growing up in school year in and year out we had English/Language Arts classes and we were forced to read fiction books. Alot of the books, in particular the Shakespeare readings, were difficult to read and atleast in my case provoked very little thought. The three reasons I came up with why reading as a part of education is important are to create desire and means for obtaining knowledge, to spark thought and ideas, and to appreciate literature and writers.

For those of you who don't know me I pretty much only read non-fiction and the only two books I can remember reading precollege that I enjoyed were Michael Dell's Direct from Dell and Reggie Miller's I Love Being the Enemy and neither of those were for school. Why can't nonfiction be incorporated into education? It meets two of those three criteria and I'm not saying it needs to be all non-fiction so its not like the appreciation aspect would be eliminated. We aren't forced to appreciate art or music why are we forced to appreciate literature. This is a disservice that leads people to associate reading with pain.

I think the reason lies in one of two phrases that rub me the wrong way, "its always been that way" and "because I said so". The last fiction book I tried to read, granted I didn't know it was fiction when I picked it up, was the DaVinci code. I was interested because it seemed to be advertised as a book that was based on little known historical facts that provoked thought about religion. About ten pages in I went from interested to not interested after I realized it was a fiction book based on manipulating pseudo facts to tell a made up story. Needless to say I didn't get much past page ten.I am not saying we should go with fiction free education. I am just saying why can't nonfiction have a place so that people like me don't give up on reading all together. In same ways I think its just that I could be unique bc I don't like a lot of the fiction pop culture type books and movies. I am not a fan of DaVinvi Code, Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, Star Wars, or The Matrix. These just don't do it for me but that should be okay.

Alot of times fiction is valued because it is supposed to spark creativity and imagination. I think that is true to an extent but in many cases nonfiction can go beyond what fiction can. Like when I blogged about the story of the 2005 Texas Football team and that if the story had appeared in a book or movie it would have been written off as unrealistic. Fiction often has constraints that the oddities of reality can go beyond.

The bulk of the books I read today are biographies. I am a big believer in the thought that the path to success is through emulating successful people. Explain to me why the world of academia cannot come to grasps with this thought.
-hj

I really like this team

June 21, 2006

I have always considered myself a Mavs fan. Most of my allegiances in the sports world are based on geography. Cowboys, Stars, Mavs, Rangers, etc. But with the Mavs it was more so the only reasons I liked them were because of Mark Cuban and because their first name was Dallas. At least that’s how it was, until this season.

I don’t have many favorite teams that aren’t any Dallas but my second favorite NFL and NBA teams are the Baltimore Ravens and the Detroit Pistons. I love teams like that because of their attitude and style of play with an extreme focus on defense. The attitude part is huge though. A tough-nosed, chip-on-your-shoulder, workman-like, prima-donna-free, gritty attitude. The Dallas Stars during the Ken Hitchcock days were a perfect fit for me as a fan because they both embraced this attitude more than any team in the NHL and they were from Dallas.

When Don Nelson was here coaching the Mavs it was tough for me to like them because they were the antithesis of that attitude. His plan surrounded trying to win through gimmicks and changing the game rather than through an attitude. He created this freak show circus team with people from 6 continents that tried to change the game by outscoring people in the hundreds using their one trick pony in the form of a seven foot German whose specialty was the fade away jumper. How’s that for a run-on sentence?

Some people think scoring alone is exciting. Don’t count me among those people. See teams that rely on scoring and strategy don’t when championships because it takes attitude and heart to win a championship. You see this all across the sports world. The Indianapolis Colts and Texas Tech set a ton of records and win a bunch of games but they aren’t championship teams. They are gimmick teams. One thing about gimmick teams is that they lack the toughness to win championship type games. Look at the Colts games the past few years in the playoffs against the Steelers and the Patriots, two teams that had that attitude. Look at Texas Tech’s games last year against Texas and Alabama, two teams that had that attitude.

Then Avery Johnson came around and now I love this team. Its not even because they’re winning its because I can feel good about cheering for them. Avery came in and said forget trying to have the first Mexican (Eduardo Najera) and Chinese(Wang Zhizhi) born players. Forget scoring 100 points and all the free Chalupas. Forget offenses based on 7 footers taking fall away jumpers. We’re going to be a tough team. We’re going to be a team with a focus on defense. We’re going to be a team that slashes and gets guys to the free throw line. We’re going to be a team of good ol’ American-born black guys. The result? A 60 win season and the first trip to the finals.

Now it didn’t work out this year as far as a championship and there is a laundry list of reasons why. Dwayne Wade blew up, Dirk got shut down, free throws down the stretch, the temptations of South Beach, suspensions, and the fact that the NBA officials are determined to prove that they are the worst officials of any sport during any era. The NBA definitely did their share suspending 3 Mavs players for 8 games and handing out half a million dollars in fines. Since when has the NBA suspended players in the playoffs for anything short of murder? All these DWade-MJ comparisons make me laugh. You can’t compare the two. Jordan got a ton of calls but he never got the calls that Wade gets. Wade is a super star and I really like him but he's got to put in mor than three years before the refs start rolling out the red carpet for him like they have previous stars.

I couldn’t be more satisfied with the makeup of this team. What scares me is the potential disaster that lies ahead. Mark Cuban is not going to max out Jason Terry and he will opt out in free agency to another team that will. He had a hell of a run this playoffs and probably increased the value of that deal by $40 million. I’m not saying increased the value of the deal TO $40 million but BY $40 million. He is definitely going to get paid. I guess some of that will depend on what teams have salary cap room and all that but it’ll work itself out for him.

The second thing I fear is that Cuban is going to bolt. It is hard to deny that he is incredibly frustrated with this league and it seems that the league is absolutely determined to deny him a championship. The past couple of months talks of Cuban buying the Cubs, Penguins, and Pirates have started blowing up. He has talked about how he is both interested in owning those teams but not interested in owning multiple teams. The one good thing is that as much corruption as there is in the NBA front office, baseball and hockey aren’t exactly in the middle of blooming times right now either.

But hey it was a helluva run and a good time. If nothing else it gave me an excuse to get out of the house and frequent the bar at Hooters where I sampled nasty Canadian beers.

 -hj

I have to admit…(World Cup)

June 17, 2006

Alright I have a confession to make. I watched the entire US World Cup soccer game today and I did it out of choice. Now granted it was an incredibly boring day and I had absolutely no other options that is no excuse. That being said I was expecting to watch a game that would make me think twice about all the harsh things I have said about the game of soccer over the years. That was hardly the case. The game lived up to my lowest of expectations.

The one bright point (I'm trying to be optimistic I really am) I found in the game of soccer is that there are no commercials. From a fans point of view this is great. Why a network would pick up a sporting event where they can only sell advertising during halftime, while people are away from the tv making trips to the kitchen and the bathroom, is beyond me. The sad part is the one bright side of the sport has nothing actually to do with the sport and everything to do with the way it is broadcasted.

As far as the game was concerned the amount of diving that goes on is incredible. I thought about feeling bad for how badly I ripped the way Manu flops but I let that thought come and go. I still don't like him. When people talked about how soccer players dive I thought it was on par with how Manu dives i.e. three or four dives a game. In that 90 minute game, of which about 70 minutes was walking around or fetching balls there had to have been 30+ dives.

My next thought was how weenie are those Italian players? I had heard of the magic spray that is supposed to cure all ills. Thats goofy and it was definetely used multiple times in this game. But the spray was nothing compared to what I saw next. A guy gets slide tackled and takes a dive. He stays down and gets the call and the trainers run on the field. The camera pans back to the scene and they are straping this guy to a FREAKING STRETCHER on which they carry him off the field. This man was not paralyzed he hurt his ankle. Upon reaching the sideline he got up and started jogging off the "injury". He was back in play in a matter of minutes. Do these people have no shame? Give me a freaking break. Three Italians were taken off the field on stretchers, none with neck injuries. The first American who gets slidetackled and taken off the field on a stretcher can stay over in Europe.

Btw the way is there such thing as a legal slide tackle? The announcers kept mentioning how poorly officiated this game was and it was to the point where I wasn't even sure how it was supposed to be. Speaking of announcers the reason I got sucked into this whole debacle in the first place is because the lady on SportsCenter this morning told me that the Americans had to win this game, the biggest game in this country's history, to have a chance to move on to the next round. Then during the game the announcer twice told me that the Americans did not have to win the game, that a tie would keep the window of possibility open as well. Okay, so whats the story here? Your job as an announcer is to tell me what I am watching and why I am watching it. I was promised this monumental soccer game but what I got was a couple hours of flopping that resulted in a 1-1 tie.

While watching the game I came up with three things that would drastically improve this sport. The first and most obvious is do what you have to do but eliminate the tie. This has its obvious reasons. The second thing is allow a player in possession of the ball to be body checked i.e. hockey. This would make for great entertainment and it would help to change the mindset of the players on the whole. I would pay money to see a streaking forward get put on his back by a defender. My first thought was that this change would mostly benefit the defense and would reduce scoring. I then came to the conclusion that in this game it may be impossible to reduce scoring. The last rule change would be to make the field 40% smaller. This would increase the action and the amount of physical play.

-hj

Don’t get left out of the future

June 10, 2006

Almost two years ago I was making an argument to a buddy of mine but I wasn't aware of the term that encapsulated the idea I had in my head. We were discussing Texas football and I was making the argument that the program could do a much better job of turning lemons into lemonade. Everyone always jokes about how critical Texas fans are of their football and how willing they are to lend their opinions. Well as a result the contribution of fan ideas are very inaccessible to the program. Well the term I was looking for I now have learned was Web 2.0 and the organizations and individuals who embrace it will be successful.

It is my prediction that success in the future will be as a result of accessibility, transparency, and accountability. These three things can come easily and cheaply in the form of Web 2.0. Web 2.0 isn't an actual thing it's a term to describe the second wave of web services and a truly web-based community. Think about what things are exploding right now. Social networks like MySpace and Facebook, YouTube, Blogs, and podcasts. User created content that is made available through interconnected web communities. This is how society communicates and entertains itself now.

I've been reading a corporate blog lately by a guy who runs a company that specializes in helping companies get started with employee blogs. While employee blogs are a PR nightmare in terms of liability they are provide credible insight and personality. Companies like Microsoft, Boeing, GE, Google, and Sun now all have employee blogs in some form or another.

I have two examples of instances where individuals and organizations have embraced this Web 2.0 type environment. The first, as sacrilegious as this is to type, is Texas A&M's AD Bill Byrne. Byrne isn't really an Aggie, he just got the job a couple years ago out of Nebraska, so I have never really felt bad for secretly liking him. I'm still a huge DeLoss Dodds fan and he owns Byrne on the field but Byrne kicks Dodds' ass as far as Web 2.0 is concerned.

When Byrne got to A&M he started Bill Byrne's Wednesday Weekly. Now the website is a piece of shit and those farmers don't know to call it or format it as a blog but the concept and content are right. In a post a couple years ago Byrne responded to emails from Aggies who wanted to paint the stands at Kyle field maroon and they wanted the situation with the orange, GOD FORBID, Gatorade jugs on the sideline fixed. He acknowledged receiving the emails and then responded to both explaining to those idiots exactly why they wouldn't do either. Fair enough. In his latest post he open's up the books to the athletic department and discloses their budget, actual expenses, and actual revenue.

My second example is with Mark Cuban. He makes himself very easily accessible via email which he uses religiously. I've emailed him a couple of times and he generally responds within hours, pretty impressive. When he didn't pony up the dough for Nash he went on his blog and explained why. When he made the decision to use the amnesty clause and cut Finley last summer he explained to his customers essentially why he made that decision. When Kenny and Charles ripped the Mavs for how they defended the Suns pick-and-roll on opening night, Cuban went on his blog and broke down the percentages of how teams had defended Phoenix and what their actual rate of success was.

Accessible, transparent in your decisions, and accountable for the decisions you make. Mack Brown is always very accountable for what happens on the field and I love that about him. But as far as the program and the department on the whole are concerned, how about some insight into their philosophy behind stadium expansion. How about some insight into what the hell is going on with Texas-OU in Dallas. How about some insight into why guys are jumping ship on the men's basketball team.

The era of secret decision-making is over. Web 2.0 will leave those behind. Everyone talks a big game about how they're dedicated to their customers but then they refuse to get feedback from them and deny them communication. And I'll leave you with this thought. For the most part I kept this post light heartened in discussing Web 2.0 in the context of sports programs.

What do you think is the future of these 3 traits in politics? There will always be areas where secrecy is a must (national defense) but everything else is fair game.

*Cue Washington bumrushing WordPress.com*

-hj

NBA Finals, Internet Gambling, Lake Charles, and Vegas

June 8, 2006

The NBA Finals start Thursday and my Dallas Mavs are in it so I'm sure you expecting that I have money on the line. I do, Mavs win I walk away $46.50 richer. What you probably didn't expect is that is if the Heat win I still walk away up $10.50. I've found my gambling specialty, betting on championships.

Two summers ago I read Bringing Down the House. I have never been a big reader and I definitely have never had a book that I could claim to not be able to put down. The book is about a team of MIT engineers who learn to play blackjack and take Vegas for a ride. I was hooked. I ran simulations on my computer, dealt myself hands, I couldn't wait to turn 21 for a reason totally opposite of the normal college student.

My first gambling experiences were at the lovely casinos on Lake Charles in Louisiana on Thursday night trips last summer while I was working in Houston. Since those Louisiana trips I found my new favorite city in the world. I've been to Vegas twice in the past year. On these trips I played mostly blackjack, craps, and roulette and the success has been up and down.

With the school starting I realized that my casino trips were coming to an end. The upside was football season was starting up and I discovered the greatness of the offshore sportsbook that is Intertops.com. I started off hot. I was doing tons of research into betting strategies and college football and I was developing strategies of my own.

I had two faults that severely hit my bankroll. The first fault was not staying disciplined with a 1-3 unit betting system and randomly placing large bets on games I was sure on. The second fault was betting on OU. I just looked it up, I put money on OU 7 times and I lost 7 times. Half the time I picked them to cover, other times I picked against them, didn't matter. The eighth time it hurt the worst. Oklahoma was a four point favorite on Big Monday against a very bad Texas Tech team. A four point spread was solid money so I smartly put down thirty-five large. I tune in with less than 5 minutes and OU has a solid double digit lead which they promptly piss away to a one point win. This is why rivalries and school hatred exists.

I finally found my groove betting on extras, in particular futures bets. My first project was the NFL East right before Thanksgiving. The Redskins were favored to win the division so utilizing Excel's Goal Seek function (if you don't know how to use it, learn to) I put my money so that if Washington won I would break even but if Dallas or New York won I'd be up. If the Eagles won I'd be very screwed.

This streak continued when I put money on Pittsburgh, Seattle, and Denver early in the playoffs, although most of my profits dwindled when I hedged my majority position with Pittsburgh in the Super Bowl with a lot of prop bets on Seattle.

I really knew I was on to something when I put money on five different College Basketball Teams to win the National Championship on February 6th. The earlier in the season you put money on a championship the better odds you get. Those five teams (Texas, Florida, UConn, Memphis, and West Virginia) included Florida who went on to win the whole thing.
But those were little victories compared to how hard I whipped them in the NBA. On January 23rd I placed bets on Miami(6.5:1) and Dallas(14:1). Two weeks later I piled more on Dallas and Miami and put some on Phoenix and hedged my bets by putting a small bet on San Antonio. I started to get cold feet at my bold feeling that neither the Spurs nor the Pistons would make it back to the Finals.

If I had half an instinct about baseball I'd be placing futures for the World Series now. College Football futures are already out and I have to be honest Ohio State(5.5:1), Notre Dame(6.5:1), Florida(11:1), and LSU(14:1) look awfully appealing.

Go Mavs, MFFL!

-hj

Texas is the new brand

June 6, 2006

I had previously blogged about the profitability of Texas' football program and I ran across an article recently predicting merchandise revenues would double this year. I attributed all this to three things. First and foremost the national championship win. Second, the fact that Texas has nearly half a million living alumni, more than any other university. And third, biggest Texas has one of the largest student populations in the country. Well I recently moved to New York and now I have to add a fourth reason that may come ahead of the previous three. 

I have a buddy from Northern California who goes to school with me at Texas. The question often comes up why he decided to come to school here and he always talks about how he thought Austin was a cool city and he thought it'd be different. But he also mentions how it wasn't as out of the blue as you might think and that his friends from high school always wore Texas stuff and after they started college they would always ask him to bring home hats and shirts.

With that in the back of my head, fast forward to last weekend when I was walking through a mall in Albany, New York and I passed by a Lids hat store. I was suprised that a stack of burnt orange Texas hats caught my eye. I was amazed at how decked out the college section of the store was with Texas hats. I counted 17 unique styles of Texas hats at a Lids in Albany, NY. Burnt Orange on White, White on Burnt Orange, White on Black, Burnt Orange on Black, White on White, etc. And it wasn't as if they just had a wide array of hats from every school. Notre Dame and Michigan were basically the only other schools in between the coasts with hats. Not a single Ohio State or Oklahoma hat which surprised me because both were big state schools whose sports programs have been successful. And in case you're wondering no other Texas school was represented.

This is when I realized what the real reason was for the boom in revenue. It wasn't as much the population of fans or the success on the field, Ohio State and Oklahoma has both. It was THE BRAND.

Just like people all over the country for the past decade have sported Michigan and North Carolina gear not because they were fans necessarily but more because it was a brand. The fact that those universities are popular and successful are part of what makes that brand so they aren't totally independent but just because you have the numbers and the success doesn't make it a given that the brand will sell.

The Collegiate Licensing Company which enforces the merchandising licenses for colleges puts out a ranking of the Top 50 selling universities. How did that list pan out for the 2004-2005 school year? #1 UNC, #2 Michigan, #3 Texas. If the forecasts are right that Texas' merchandise sales will double this year I can't imagine that list staying as it is.

This past Saturday night I watched the Mavs take Game 6 from the Suns at the ESPNZone in Times Square. Again, people all over the place with the Texas brand. And I'm really not delusional in the way of thinking that these people were even Texas fans. My point is they wear the brand just as I used to wear a red UNC hat. I never cheered for UNC a day in my life (well, okay I almost wet my pants when they won they NC last year resulting in a huge payday for me).

This sporting of a brand solely for the sake of the brand would annoy some people. Aggies in particular seem to get annoyed when people root on a college program with which they are in no way affiliated. To me gettin angry over that is just plain ignorant. Support is support, am I wrong?

I think what I am more excited about than anything is that for the first time in my life I have a wardrobe full of the new, hottest brand. 😉

-hj