Rob Minto

Sport, data, ideas

Month: January 2011

Djokovic and the multiple slam winners [UPDATED]

With Novak Djokovic winning in Australia, most of the coverage has focused on Andy Murray coming up short in his 3rd slam final (a damning stat – 3 finals, 0 sets won).

I thought I would concentrate on Djokovic instead. Djokovic has now won 2 of his 4 slam finals, which is not bad in the scheme of things. Amongst current players, only Federer (16-6), Nadal (9-2) and Del Potro (1-0) are in better shape. Hewitt is the same (2-2), there’s Ferrero on 1-1, while Roddick (1-4) had the misfortune of coming up against Federer in his prime 4 times.

For Murray, the only other multiple slam loser currently is Soderling with 0-2. The 1-time finalists I won’t list here.

However – one facet of Djokovic’s win is that it moves him from the one-time winner list to multiple winners, and does the Australian Open a favour at the same time.

The mark of a great player is winning more than one slam, ideally at more than one venue. Single slam winners are one-offs. They devalue the currency of the slam win, and don’t foster the key element to tennis’ popularity – rivalries. Continue reading

Premature obituaries – a closer look at the data

After being alerted by Paul Bradshaw’s tweet that Wikipedia has a fascinating list of people who have had their obituary published erroneously or prematurely, I thought i would take a closer look at the data.

First off, the caveats: it’s Wikipedia. Trust with care. The list is subjective, west-orientated and certainly incomplete.

However, it is fascinating. The headline is that there are far fewer hoaxes and pseudocides then you would think. Most premature obits are basic errors, human and mechanical. News agencies report rumours as facts, other news outlets repeat. And although we might think this is getting worse and worse in the blog-twitter-newswebsite world, it’s not really – this is as old as the hills. There are incidents dating back centuries.

Out of the 180 incidents, faking death and hoaxes accounts for only 41 cases, while accidents and misunderstandings together are just shy of 50 per cent.

The full data is here in a google document.

Accidental publication 52
Brush with death 34
Hoax 30
Impostor 2
Land theft victims 5
Misidentified body 9
Missing in action 7
Misunderstandings 12
Name confusion 18
Pseudocide 11
total 180

All floods are a disaster – but which ones should we care about?

When devastating floods hit Australia this month, it dominated the news coverage. When Brazil’s floods started not long after, the news coverage was minimal, to say the least. Why? Is this a UK problem? We are culturally closer to Australia than Brazil, of course. But no – a quick look at Google trends shows that the Australian bias was across the news internationally.

Australia in red, Brazil in blue

Google trends comparing Australia floods to Brazil floods

Google trends comparing Australia floods to Brazil floods | Source: Google

There was a brief point where Brazil – the blue line – goes over the Australian one, but that is it.

Although it is morbid to equate deaths to newsworthiness, the Brazil death toll of 700+ far outweighs the Australian toll of less than 100 (17 so far, 60 or so missing).

Is Brazil a tiny country with little news impact? No. It’s the world’s 8th largest economy, bigger than Australia in 13th place. Both countries are important in terms of world resouces. They are quite similar in geographical size. Here are the numbers.

The big difference is in GDP per capita. Brazil has 195m people to Australia’s 21.5m – and at $9,000 GDP per capita to Australia’s $53,300, it’s simply a lot poorer – more than five times poorer in fact.

And at their search peaks, “Australia floods” was 4.8 times more popular a search term than “Brazil floods”. Go figure.

The ever-expanding list of new countries

There have been a lot of articles about south Sudan becoming the world’s newest country, often with a slightly breathless tone as if it were as rare as a solar eclipse. But how often does this happen? Is it so rare to see the birth of a new country?

In some ways, yes, in others no. Yes, because there are only 190+ countries in the world or so, which means one addition is still significant numerically. No, because new countries appear more regularly than say, the Olympics, and the 20th century saw an explosion of new countries unlike any time before.

Here’s a chart of new countries since 1900. It’s got a few anomalies, such as Iraq in 2009, which seems odd as most people would consider Iraq to have been a country many generations prior to the US-UK invastion, but the data uses the year when the country is free from subordination, which works for most countries.

There are three big bursts: in 1945 after the second world war, where much of Europe was released from Nazi control; in 1960 as many African countries seceded from or were granted independence by France; and in 1991 as the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia collapsed.

Here is the source (Wikipedia), and here is all my Excel crunching.

So is Sudan so remarkable? It is certainly interesting, and unusual given the circumstances – it isn’t the end of a big war or collapse of a superpower. But this is not a once-in-a-generation event, and there will be more to follow. Scotland? Alaska? Who knows, but I’m sure it won’t be too long before we see the UN country count at over 200.

What Sarah Palin has in common with Ludwig Wittgenstein

My college philosophy tutor* once told me why Wittgenstein was the most important philosopher of the 20th century. It was because he permanently changed the debate. All philosophers who came after him could agree, or disagree – but they couldn’t ignore him.

I’m worried that Sarah Palin’s Facebook page is going to become the modern equivalent of Wittgenstein on every news event –  you agree or disagree (in my case, strongly disagree), but you have to have an opinion. The latest use of her forum as a prism for news is the controversy over the Arizona shooting and whether she is inciting violence.

In fact, it’s not just her Facebook page. She has, like Wittgenstein, changed the debate, whether it’s via her silly comments on Twitter, or her TV show, or her book, or the fact that the entire 2012 presidential race will be in some way about her.

Sarah Palin has also one other thing in common with Wittgenstein – it’s all about language. Wittgenstein would have recognised her language games as having rules all of their own. Whether it’s the new word “betcha”, a conflation of two words (bet you) one of which is already a shortening, or “refudiate” with reference to the ground zero muslim centre, she’s mangling language like crazy. Allies or enemies? North or South Korea? What’s the difference? Palin didn’t know, but it changes nothing – her supporters couldn’t care less.

Sadly, Sarah Palin seems unlikely to follow Wittgenstein’s maxim which ended the Tractatus – “whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent”. (Translation for Palinites: If you don’t know what you are talking about, shut the hell up.) Somehow I think we’re going to hear a lot more from her on things she knows absolutely nothing about.

* My tutor was Peter Hacker, the world’s authority on Wittgenstein and a wonderful philosopher in his own right. So he knows what he’s talking about.

The Ashes in stats

I was going to do this for this blog, but then got asked to do it for the FT. Here it is (registered).

The best nuggets include:

Australia lost by an innings in three out of the five matches in the series. Before that, they had lost by an innings in just three Tests in 242 Test matches since 1990. They won by an innings in 36 matches in that period, winning 144 times overall.

Nine 100s scored by English batsmen; three by Australian batsmen. On the 2006-07 Ashes tour, England scored three to Australia’s nine.

Other stats are even more painful – England took 30 more wickets overall – 86 to 56. In stats, whichever way you look at it, it was a very one-sided series. Strange that after 3 matches, it was 1-1.

Facebook: is the party over?

In all the hoopla surrounding the Goldman Sachs investment in Facebook, one thing seems odd.

It isn’t the money – Facebook made $2bn in revenues last year, apparently, which isn’t bad (although we need to remember that revenues aren’t profit – finance 1.01).

And it isn’t the ambition – Facebook is making itself the de facto log in for half the web. Nor is it platform issues: people look at Facebook on iPhones, Android phones and so on.

It’s the traffic.

Facebook is first and foremost a network. And the laws of networks mean that the more people join, the more useful they are, and the more connections are made. It’s exponential – just think of the moment when 2 people are on a network, and a third person joins – the number of possible connections doubles each time.

Now look at these charts – they are from Wolfram Alpha, who use Alexa as their source.

The number of users just keeps growing:

Facebook users, 2010

Facebook users, 2010

But the traffic doesn’t:

Facebook pageviews, 2010

Facebook pageviews, 2010

You would think that the traffic would mirror the user growth. In fact, given the network effect, it should outpace it.

So what’s going on? Either Facebook’s new users are dud accounts, or the older users are getting tired. People are either spending less time on the site, or are turning up less frequently. According to Alexa, the time on the site is relatively static too, but the daily pageviews per user are falling:

Facebook pageviews per user

Facebook pageviews per user

But this should be a worry for the company. They aren’t in the business of charging users, and may never be if the right revenue model comes along. So usage is everything. Facebook’s growth may seem relentless in terms of the numbers of people signed up, but boredom is a very dangerous thing for a network. When was the last time you logged into MySpace?

Goldman may have made a great investment, or they might just be turning up to the party as all the cool people are leaving. We’ll see.

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