Late last week, I ran across a spectacular video of a man being completely awesome:
The video shows Christophe Hamel jumping/falling/hurtling off of walls, landing on a trampoline, and then bouncing up to land back on top of the wall — sometimes in a handstand in case there was a risk you wouldn’t be impressed enough otherwise [seen at 1:50+].
My first thought on seeing this video was “It’s gotta be really hard for his mom to watch this.”
My second thought was, “Is it really possible for a trampoline to conserve energy that well?”
I’m not a fan of professional sports. I find the whole scenario of people rooting for their local team, consisting of a bunch of (generally egregiously overpaid) athletes that have no particular connection to their “hometown”, somewhat absurd. I can’t even watch the Olympics anymore, since it seems like a two-week long promotional ad, with a few minutes of mind-blowing athleticism thrown in now and then. I generally prefer playing sports than watching others do so.
However, I confess that I absolutely love the World Cup. I love that the entire world (with the possible exception of the US) becomes mesmerized. Europe and the Americas are well represented. But so are Africa and Asia. Even North Korea managed to qualify. I love that the games are shown without interruption: two 45 minutes halves (plus extra time), with no break for commercials. Just nonstop football/soccer. Yes, the uninitiated complain that almost nothing ever happens. But they are missing that something is always happening. The game is relentless. These are amazing athletes, from all corners of the globe, playing with no rest for 45 minutes straight. There is individual brilliance. There is brilliant teamwork. Granted, the rash of 0-0 games has been disappointing. Although play is generally exciting, it’s still fun to have a goal now and then. Especially if you’re forced to watch in the 3:30am–5:30am slot, as we are in Asia.
Clear evidence that the whole world is watching can be found in the advertisements which appear on the billboards circling the field. There are, of course, familiar names. But there are plenty of advertisements that, at least for me, spark no recognition whatsoever: Mahindra Satyam, Continental (not the airline), MTN, Seara, and an ad in Chinese that I couldn’t even read. It tells you something when someone is paying for what must be some of the most expensive advertising real estate anywhere, anytime, and the vast majority of the “West” can’t even read the ad. This is truly the world’s game. Despite the United States’ protestations (e.g., the “World” Series) otherwise.
The New York Times has an article about stand-up paddleboarding. I guess that means it’s now officially mainstream? It’s weird to have seen a sport arise completely from scratch, over a period of just a few years. Five years ago paddleboarders were basically freaks. Now every break is teeming with them, and there’s a whole industry specifically for stand-up. Even the gray lady herself is in on the game.
For the uninitiated: imagine an oversized longboard (over 10 feet long), with extra width and stability. You stand up on the board, and use a long-handled paddle to propel yourself through the water. Sort of like a canoe, only standing up. It’s good exercise. It’s also really fun. You can really cruise. And you can enjoy it even if it’s totally flat (although the real fun is to take the big boards into the surf).
The rapid rise in popularity is almost certainly due to the fact that the learning curve for stand-up paddleboarding is shallow. The average person can be up and going in about 10 minutes. And it’s almost like they’re surfing. After all, they’re standing on a surfboard, moving through the water. However, this is a pale imitation. Until you actually get the board out in the surf, and feel the acceleration of a drop, and the exhilaration as you glide down a wall of water, you have no idea what it’s all about. Good paddleboarders can go out in big surf. But that part of the learning curve is Jaws steep.
I was in Maui this past January, and my favorite break (Kanaha) was overrun by paddleboards. At least half the people out there were doing stand-up. For a “conventional” surfer it’s a bummer, since the paddleboards catch waves early, and there’s no room to drop in, even if you wanted to. But if you can’t beat ‘em….
About a year ago I had my initiation, doing a down-winder from past Ho’okipa to Spreckelsville. It took a while to get the balance down, but eventually you figure out where to stand, and how to use the paddle for stability. And then you’re cruising. You can paddle into reasonable breaking surf, since the board has a tendency to keep going and remain unperturbed. You cut right through waves that would have tossed a longboard. However, I can tell you from painful experience that it really sucks to get Maytagged while doing stand-up. I have a nice fin-shaped scar to prove it.
Super Bowl Sunday is, of course, the great American holiday. Past years have seen inspirational performances by Joe Namath, Joe Montana, and Janet Jackson. This year pits the New Orleans Saints against the Indianapolis Colts. New Orleans, of course, is known as a city of saintly behavior, while Indianapolis’s claim to fame involves horsepower in some tangential way.
When faced with contests of ritualized violence, we like to look for the science. So check out this video of Saints quarterback Drew Brees participating in a rigorous laboratory experiment by throwing the ol’ pigskin at an archery target. Joking aside, that is some pretty sick accuracy there.
Impressive that a human arm beats a bow and arrow for accuracy (although it’s not completely clear that the distances and conditions were perfectly analogous). All in the wobble, apparently. But if I were defending my castle from the barbarian hordes or something, I’d still prefer archers over some guys throwing footballs.
Northern New Mexico is an absolutely fabulous place to live. But, on occasion, I wish I had a teleporter handy. One of those occasions would be when the “Swell of the Century” hits the Hawaiian Islands, as it did last week. It turned out to be more like the “Swell of the Decade”, but apparently was nonetheless quite spectacular. Spectacular enough to hold the Eddie, a big-wave contest that can only be held in epic conditions.
There’s some good video here and here. Conditions were apparently squirrely, so most of the footage consists of fairly spectacular drops leading to gnarly wipeouts. Every now and then someone (often Kelly Slater [at left above]) emerges intact. Unless you’ve been out in overhead+ surf, I think it’s hard to fathom just how powerful these waves can be. You’ve bodysurfed three footers, and you think you have a clue. But you don’t. For a little perspective, here’s an excellent video from a (professional) surfer who wiped out at Jaws (on the north shore of Maui; it only fires on big days [like last week]). He survived (more-or-less).
While Hawaii was being slammed by water horizontally, we got a vertical contribution (in the form of a couple of feet of snow). It’s time to go dust off my snowboard.
For those of you who are not fortunate enough to be Pittsburgh born and bred, the above photo shows what greets your arrival at the Pittsburgh airport, right before you descend to baggage claim — side-by-side statues of George Washington and Franco Harris.
(If you’re unfamiliar with Franco, he’s probably best known for his “Immaculate Reception“.)
UPDATE: Note that this opinion is now officially endorsed by the current administration. Take that Arizona!
Too many things I would blog about, if only I could slip into an extra timelike dimension and experience several weeks in just a few of your Earth minutes. Between now and New Year’s I’m going to clean out my collection of blog-worthy things; if you’ve read enough of Cosmic Variance in the past, you should be able to extrapolate to a full post.
Today: “Top Ten Stupidest Arguments in College Football,” which is itself so full of stupid arguments one suspects one is being punk’d. College football is the only major sport that decides who plays in the championship game on the basis of a vote, rather than by a playoff. One can debate the merits vis-a-vis excitement and revenues, but the whole operation is based on an epistemological blunder: the idea that there is something called the “best” team. The point of sports is not that there are better teams and worse teams, it’s that some teams win and some teams lose. Winning and losing is not some approximation to the true measure of excellence that we are forced to put up with; it’s what the games are all about. A sensible world would have a playoff, and let the teams play. (I’ve actually heard people argue that a playoff would be bad idea because the “best” team might not win.)
(If I could just train myself to make posts that are that short all the time, I’d blog twice as often. Maybe five times as often. Are more/shorter posts better?)
From the “physics answers the questions you really care about” file, some friends have treated the Olympic 100-meter dash as an astrophysics problem, and figured out how fast Usain Bolt could have run had he really tried:
Velocity dispersions in a cluster of stars: How fast could Usain Bolt have run?
Authors: H. K. Eriksen, J. R. Kristiansen, O. Langangen, I. K. Wehus
Abstract: Since that very memorable day at the Beijing 2008 Olympics, a big question on every sports commentator’s mind has been “What would the 100 meter dash world record have been, had Usain Bolt not celebrated at the end of his race?” Glen Mills, Bolt’s coach suggested at a recent press conference that the time could have been 9.52 seconds or better. We revisit this question by measuring Bolt’s position as a function of time using footage of the run, and then extrapolate into the last two seconds based on two different assumptions. First, we conservatively assume that Bolt could have maintained Richard Thompson’s, the runner-up, acceleration during the end of the race. Second, based on the race development prior to the celebration, we assume that he could also have kept an acceleration of 0.5 m/s^2 higher than Thompson. In these two cases, we find that the new world record would have been 9.61 +/- 0.04 and 9.55 +/- 0.04 seconds, respectively, where the uncertainties denote 95% statistical errors.
Complete with this interesting photo reconstruction:
Chad laments that we don’t hear that much about the decathlon any more, because Americans aren’t really competitive. I also think it’s a shame, because any sport in which your score can be a complex number deserves more attention.
Yes, it’s true. The decathlon combines ten different track and field events, so to come up with a final score we need some way to tally up all of the individual scores so that each event is of approximately equal importance. You know what that means: an equation. Let’s imagine that you finish the 100 meter dash in 9.9 seconds. Then your score in that event, call it x, is x = 9.9. This corresponds to a number of points, calculated according to the following formulas:
points = α(x0-x)β for track events,
points = α(x-x0)β for field events.
That’s right — power laws! With rather finely-tuned coefficients, although it’s unclear whether they occur naturally in any compactification of string theory. The values of the parameters α, x0 and β are different for each of the ten events, as this helpful table lifted from Wikipedia shows:
Event α x0 β Units 100 m 25.437 18 1.81 seconds Long Jump 0.14354 220 1.4 centimeters Shot Put 51.39 1.5 1.05 meters High Jump 0.8465 75 1.42 centimeters 400 m 1.53775 82 1.81 seconds 110 m Hurdles 5.74352 28.5 1.92 seconds Discus Throw 12.91 4 1.1 meters Pole Vault 0.2797 100 1.35 centimeters Javelin Throw 10.14 7 1.08 meters 1500 m 0.03768 480 1.85 seconds
The goal, of course, is to get the most points. Note that for track events, your goal is to get a low score x (running fast), so the formula involves (x0-x); in field events you want a high score (throwing far), so the formula is reversed, (x-x0). Don’t ask me how they came up with those exponents β.
You might think the mathematics consultants at the International Olympic Committee could tidy things up by just using an absolute value, |x-x0|β. But those athletes are no dummies. If you did that, you could start getting great scores by doing really badly! Running the 100 meter dash in 100 seconds would give you 74,000 points, which is kind of unfair. (The world record is 8847.)
However, there remains a lurking danger. What if I did run a 100-second 100 meter dash? Under the current system, my score would be an imaginary number! 61237.4 – 41616.9i, to be precise. I could then argue with perfect justification that the magnitude of my score, |61237.4 – 41616.9i |, is 74,000, and I should win. Even if we just took the real part, I come out ahead. And if those arguments didn’t fly, I could fall back on the perfectly true claim that the complex plane is not uniquely ordered, and I at least deserve a tie.
Don’t be surprised if you see this strategy deployed, if not now, then certainly in 2012.
We have been remiss in not addressing the major event going on right before our eyes: the NBA Finals. In my case, it’s literally before my eyes, as I live just a couple of blocks from the Staples Center in LA, where action resumes tonight. I fully expect to run into Jack Nicholson drinking himself into a stupor at a local bar later this evening.
Now, every year the NBA Finals are a momentous event, but this year is especially noteworthy, as the teams involved are the LA Lakers and the Boston Celtics — a remarkable 11th Finals rematch between these two franchises. However, to a Philadelphia 76ers fan such as myself, one needs to say “the Hated Lakers” and “the Hated Celtics.” One or the other of these evil organizations has been responsible for bouncing my beloved Sixers out of the playoffs on countless occasions, most recently in 2001 when a Lakers juggernaut led by Shaquille O’Neal made short work of a plucky Philadelphia squad led by Allen Iverson — a David vs. Goliath matchup in which Goliath won fairly easily, as seems to usually happen in the real world.
So the question of “who to root for?” becomes one of “who do you hate less?” A truly thorny issue. Points to be considered:
In the final calculation, and as painful as it is to say out loud — one has to root for the Celtics. Emotional attachment to a sports franchise is ultimately a completely irrational feeling, arising from unpredictable factors of geography and history rather than a sober contemplation of objective criteria. So you have to go with your gut, and my gut would very much like to see Kevin Garnett finally win the NBA Championship he so richly deserves. We’ll have to put aside the ugly reality that he’ll be wearing one of those horrible green uniforms when he does it.
And wait until next year.