Wednesday, July 30, 2014

My 2014 Hugo Votes: Best Fan Writer

After voting for Best Novella, I wrote, "This will be the last category I'm voting." I was wrong. I thought about the fact that I had nominated Kameron Hurley for Best Fan Writer, and I decided I should probably vote in the category if possible.

As it turned out, each of the nominees submitted a fairly short collection of writing, so it was pretty easy to evaluate each of them on that basis.

The writing seemed to divide into two categories: writing about issues in the SF community and reviewing works of SF. There was certainly some overlap; in particular reviews often veered into "issues" territory. That's OK; I liked pretty much all of it. In fact, this is the first category I've voted in where I would be happy with pretty much any of the nominees. Thus, my ballot:
  1. Kameron Hurley. I still think she has written some really incisive stuff, such as her post on the SFWA Bulletin controversy. Unfortunately, one of the pieces she chose to include was about health insurance. While a good piece, it didn't feel particularly fannish. Fortunately, as a regular reader of her blog, I don't have to rely on that piece to form much of my opinion.
  2. Abagail Nussbaum. The included material was essays on two books, a TV show and a movie. It helped that I had seen the movie and read one of the books, but I found the writing helpful in guiding my thoughts on the material.
  3. Liz Bourke. Some good reviews, and an interesting essay about writing a column on female authors. I didn't engage with the writing as much as Nussbaum's, perhaps because I was less familiar with the material.
  4. Foz Meadows. In many ways, she covers much the same territory of pointing out what it wrong in the SF community as Hurley does. I found it a little more in the rant direction. I think the behavior she writes about deserves ranting, and she writes about it well -- I'm just not voting it as high because it comes across as slightly less thoughtful.
  5. Mark Oshiro. As far as I can tell, his schtick is writing about works of fiction in the recap style that is very popular now for TV shows. Included in the packet were writeups of 3 book chapters and 1 TV show episode. I had read one of the books. The writing quickly went into personal reflection, which lost my interest. I thought the format was interesting, and I might enjoy it for some books I've read...but probably recaps by a different author.
  6. No Award. It's a favorite of mine; it rarely ends up in last place.
I was really up in the air about positions 2-4.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Longest Bike Ride Yet (Maybe)

Mile 18.6
On Sunday, I biked in the Firefighter 50 in Carroll County. Despite the name, I was able to choose the 30-mile course. About 5 miles in, I realized that I should not be riding this far without training first. In between this ride and the last 25+ mile ride I did, I only biked once. That's not really a good idea, especially for an out-of-shape guy in his 40s.

Starting at the fire house
Other than the moments where I didn't know if I could finish (I pushed the bike up most of the hills in the last 5 miles), I enjoyed the ride. I prefer the rural cycling to the urban rides I've done the past two times. There's a lot less traffic and traffic signals. On the other hand, there are fewer rest stops and convenience stores, so I will have to remember to pack more water next time.
Mile 23.4, the rest stop

Was this my longest bike ride yet? Last month, I listed my longest five, the longest of which was a 33-mile ride last year. According to MapMyRide, Sunday's ride was 33.09 miles. For last year's ride, I used EveryTrail, which rounds off to the nearest mile once you pass a certain distance. In an attempt to resolve this, I downloaded the GPX file and uploaded it to two different sites that allow you to visualize your tracks. One of them said 30.43 miles; the other said 33.5 miles. I guess it depends on how you interpolate between the waypoints. Let's call it a tie.

The picture above is next to a Maryland Historical Marker. Of the 379 waymarks in that category, I have visited 47, or a little over 12%. That seems like a lot, but it's a little bit skewed by the 14 I've posted myself. (There are certainly more than 379 markers across the state.)

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Let's Move the World Cup! (Again)

2014 marks the 20th anniversary of the only (men's soccer) World Cup to be held in the United States, (not) coincidentally the only one I've ever attended. The U.S. might bid for the 2026 World Cup. But could the Cup come back to the States sooner than that?

Well, with Russia currently in the international doghouse, there are calls to strip Russia of the 2018 hosting duties. And Qatar is such a mess on the heat/bribery/human rights angles that moving the 2022 Cup to the U.S. is now a perennial story.

So that got me thinking: how would that work. Well, one answer is about as well as plans to move the 2010 Cup to the U.S...
Fifa executives have voiced "serious" doubts about whether South Africa will be able to host the next World Cup in 2010 and have discussed a radical contingency plan that would see the United States stage the tournament instead...
or the 2014 Cup
...some members of Brazil's Football Confederation fear the [World] Cup will be transferred to the USA due to the protests...
So these rumors come up every few years (and it's an indication of how badly FIFA has done with the selection process that it has come up four Cups in a row), and often for the Olympics as well. Nothing ever seems to come of it. So I thought I'd try to find as many examples as possible of major international sporting events being moved.

I came up with four. I suspect I've missed a few, depending on your definition of "major". But here goes.
  • The 2003 Women's World Cup was moved in May 2003 from China to the U.S. because of SARS fears. This was really a last-minute move. How major was the tournament? At over 600,000 total attendance, it ranks below all but the first 3 men's World Cups. But the 1999 and 2007 WWCs each topped a million, indicating that the short lead time could have depressed turnout.
  • The 1986 (men's) World Cup was moved in 1982 from Colombia to Mexico, since Colombia didn't feel it was financially prepared to host. Colombia had been awarded the hosting rights in 1974. I thought awarding the 2022 Cup in 2010 was ridiculous, but apparently it wasn't unprecedented.
  • The 1908 Olympics were originally awarded to Rome, but when Mt. Vesuvius erupted in 1906, Italy didn't feel like it could afford to rebuild Naples and host the Olympics, so the games went to London.
  • The 1904 Olympics were originally awarded to Chicago, but St. Louis was having the World's Fair, and threatened to overshadow it with their own games, so the Olympics were moved. This seems like the least relevant example.
So, anyway, it has happened before, but very, very rarely. So I guess I'll greet any future "maybe they'll move the World Cup" stories with skepticism, but I can't say it's impossible.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Top Ten Authors

Goodreads compiles a list of your most-read authors. Of course, this list only counts the books I've entered into Goodreads. So I'm sure Isaac Asimov or Franklin W. Dixon would make a lifetime list. But these capture the books I've read in the past four years since I've joined Goodreads, plus the ones from the past I've cared enough to list, so I thought it would be mildly interesting to discuss who is on the list and why.

  • Jack McDevitt. He has written quite a number of very good books, and one great one. A Talent for War was the first book I ever read by him (in 2008), and it is brilliant. Other than that, he writes one book a year, usually gets nominated for a Nebula Award (but rarely wins). I always look forward to his books in the fall (especially the sequels to A Talent for War, though none has lived up to it.)
  • Lois McMaster Bujold. All but three of these 16 I've read since May of last year, which is a testament to how good they are. I've mostly read her Vorkosigan novels, which are always very good, but sometimes are amazing commentaries on social structures and personal relationships.
  • Douglas Coupland. I read his first novel, Generation X, in college and was awe-struck. Some of his later work has been disappointing, but he still has the ability to capture an idea so profoundly that it will burrow into my head and stay there for decades.
  • Michael Lewis. I got hooked on his writing when he was with The New Republic in the 1990s. Though justly praised for his financial (Liar's Poker, Flash Boys) and sports (Moneyball, The Blind Side) writing, don't overlook his writing about politics (Trail Fever) or family (Home Game).
  • Naomi Novik. Her Temeraire series starts off with His Majesty's Dragon, which is a really fresh alternate-history fantasy. Later works are uneven, but the series as a whole is strong. The 10 books represent the 8 novels and 2 short stories in the Temeraire universe. I am looking forward to the series conclusion next year.
  • Kim Stanley Robinson. The only author from this list I've actually met; he's a really nice guy. His Mars trilogy is probably his best work, but I've enjoyed most of the books of his that I've read (although I couldn't finish a couple). He sometimes lets his eagerness to explore ideas harm the style of the books.
  • Robert Silverberg. The Majipoor series instilled such a sense of wonder in me when I read it growing up, and it's still magical to return to as an adult. The original trilogy is the rare set of books I am happy to re-read.
  • Ursula K. LeGuin. A fantastic writer, whose work I've mostly come to through my quest to read award-winning fiction. She has written both young adult novels with tremendous depth and adult novels with tremendous depth, and she's done it over a span of half of a century.
  • George R.R. Martin. Aside from the five most-famous books of his (which I love and are the rare books I'll re-read), I have read a couple of anthologies which he co-edited, about 20 years apart. If I could remember what I read in the 1990s better, he might move up the list, though anthologies probably shouldn't count. I have no plans to read any more of his anthologies, though the one stand-alone novel he co-authored, Windhaven, was pretty good.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

My 2014 Hugo Votes: Best Novella

This will be the last category I'm voting. As previously discussed, I'm not going to make it through the Best Novel category. The Retro-Hugos are neat, but I don't have time to track down anything other than the Short Story category (which was only missing one story). I started on the Campbell Best New Writer Award, but four of the five nominees submitted novels (one of them, two novels), and I'm not going to get to read all of them. I appreciate the opportunity to read the work, and I hope to have the time next year to vote in this category, but not this year.

So, on to the novellas. I rated one of them with four stars, one of them with three stars, and three of them with two stars. I ranked them in a different order, however.

  1. Equoid: "This is well-written, but it's not horror for people who don't like horror. (It's probably actually more creepy fantasy than horror, but I really don't like horror.)" 3 stars.
  2. Six-Gun Snow White: 2 stars. Some nice language, but the attempt to re-tell (sort of) the Snow White story in the Wild West did not work for me. Neither the plot nor the character held my interest.
  3. No Award.
  4. Wakulla Springs: "It was a well-written and enjoyable story....but...why, why, why do people keep nominating works that aren't SF/fantasy for SF/fantasy awards?" 4 stars.
  5. The Chaplain's Legacy: 2 stars. Too many cliches: aliens who marvel at the notion of religion and ordinary guy who becomes a hero by sticking to his principles, to name two.
  6. The Butcher of Khardov: 2 stars. I suppose it's possible to write a fantastic work based on a miniatures game, but this really felt like it was set in the universe of a miniatures game.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Bike Ride: Minute 44

Yesterday I signed up for a 30-mile bike ride, which takes places next weekend. Since I hadn't been on my bike since my last long-distance ride, I decided I needed to practice. I went out for an hour, but only managed 5.6 miles. That was partially because I motivated my ride by finding a geocache, which entailed a lot of riding around slowly trying to figure out where I should be. (I am trying to embed the map above, which should show the part where I was spinning my wheels.) The cache I found is named McCrory's, after a store that was in this shopping center many years ago.

The shopping center has become very dilapidated -- there is a rumor that Harris Teeter is in negotiations to come in -- so there weren't a lot of people hanging around, which is good for cache stealth. One of the problems I have with geocaching, though, is that I'm not thrilled with either caches like McCrory's, which are in perfectly icky parking lot settings, or deep-woods caches that require you to bushwhack for half a mile to find them. There are a few that are "just off the beaten path," but they require me to choose carefully.

Still, I was happy to log this one, since it put me one cache closer to my "goal" of finding one in each minute of the 76th degree west of longitude. (I put "goal" in quotation marks, since I find it unlikely I'll ever finish this.) This is my 13th minute.

I looked to see if I could add to my count on next week's bike ride, but it appears to take place entirely to the west of the 77th parallel.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The Goofiness of the "UEFA Coefficient"

On December 2, 2009, the Scottish club Celtic beat the Israel side Hapoel Tel-Aviv 2-0 in the group stage of the Europa League (Europe's second-tier club competition). Despite the victory, Celtic was eliminated and Hapoel moved on.

In the summer of 2015, the Scottish Cup champions will play a pair of second-round qualifying matches for the Europa League. They will be spared the indignity of entering in the first round. (If the Scottish Cup winners also qualify for either the Champions League or Europa League due to their placement in the league, this statement applies to some other club, but let's ignore that for now.)

How are these two things related? Well, Scotland is the 23rd-ranked European country in terms of club football for the purposes of the 2015/6 Europa League, and Sweden is the 24th. The 23rd-ranked program sends its cup champion to the second round, while the 24th-ranked nation's cup champion has to play an extra home-and-away series. The ranking is based on the 5-year span from 2009-2014, and (for reasons I'll explain later), the Celtic win contributed 0.333 to Scotland's coefficient for the year, which affected the next five years. Scotland's ranking for 2015/6 is 16.566, while Sweden's is 16.325. Without that "meaningless" Celtic victory back in 2009, Scotland's ranking would have dropped to 16.233 and Sweden's Cup winner is the one who would have the first-round bye. (Israel would have also leapfrogged Romania into 16th place had H. Tel-Aviv won, but the 16th and 17th placed nation's teams are treated equally in next season's European football.)

I started thinking about UEFA coefficients in detail after reading an article about Celtic's new manager, Ronny Delia, and his complaints about having to enter at the second round of Champions League qualifying.  "It is stupid the Scottish coefficient is not regarded as good enough," he said. "We maybe have one good team but the other ones are dragging that team down."

That got me to look at how Scotland's coefficient is calculated, and the extent to which other teams, are, in fact, dragging Celtic down. The specific complaint Delia had was about the 2014/5 season. For that season (the current one), the rankings are determined based on play from 2008-13. Scotland's ranking is 15.191, good enough for 24th. If I added correctly, Celtic produced 8.9 of those points, or more than half, even though they were one of as many of 6 teams whose performances were averaged together.

If you consider Celtic as its own nation, they would have had a UEFA coefficient of 43, good enough for 10th place on the list. The 10th-place nation's champion proceeds directly to the group stage, skipping the three qualifying rounds and the playoff round. I think Delia is arguing that would be a fairer fate for Celtic.

But, wait! How did Celtic acquire those (hypothetical) 42 points? In 2008-09, they picked up 7 points for their participation in the Champions League group stage, but failed to advance. In 2009-10, they were knocked out of the Champions League in the playoff stage (after advancing through one qualifying round), which bounced them into the Europa League, where they lost in the group stage. Despite not making it to the Champions League group stage, nor advancing in the Europa League, they got 7 points, the same as the previous year. In 2010-11, they were knocked out of both the Champions League third qualifying round and the Europa League playoff round, but picked up 2 points by winning one leg of each round. In 2011-12, they got 7 points for their performance, which saw them fail to advance past the Europa League group stage.  In 2012-13, their most glorious recent year, they got 20 points when they advanced to the round of 16 in the Champions League. Four of those points were for victories leading up to the group stage.

So despite the fact that those 42 points means Celtic "deserved" to be in the Champions League group stage, many of those points (19 of them) came from parts of the competition below the CL group stage. On the other hand, if we magically place Celtic in the CL group stage every year, and assume they lose every game in years where they didn't actually qualify, they still earn 4 points/year for CL group stage participation, which gives them a total of 31 points, good enough for becoming the 13th-ranked "nation," and yes, automatic entry in the group stage.

There are two kinds of feedback going on here. The positive is that being a highly-ranked nation makes it more likely that your teams will end up in the group stage, where they earn points for being in the group stage. The negative is that higher-ranked nations have teams play in fewer matches (by skipping qualifying), so they have fewer opportunities to get points. I'm curious how these feedbacks balance each other out. I suppose if they didn't, we would see a lot of oscillation in national rankings. I'm not sure if that happens or not.

I think there's an opportunity for an interesting mathematical analysis of the way in which the UEFA coefficient ranking differs from an ideal ranking. Assuming you want to stick with the UEFA rate-the-country approach, there's probably still a better way. Searching the mathematical literature, I found one 2005 paper on the UEFA coefficient. I will go read that paper, but there's probably room for further research.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

My 1939 Retro-Hugo Votes: Best Short Story

I'm not going to be able to read the 2014 Hugo Best Novel nominees. One is the entire Wheel of Time series, which could take years to read. Three were not included in the Hugo voters packet, which means I would have to track them down if I were so inclined. (I have done so for Ancillary Justice, and started to do so for Neptune's Brood, but I lost interest.) The other one is included, but was nominated as part of a right-wing slate that hasn't held my interest so far.

So, on to other categories. The 75th anniversary of the first Worldcon is celebrating by voting on the Retro-Hugos, since no actual Hugos were awarded then. The Retro-Hugo voters packet is even more incomplete than the Hugo packet, but it had four of the five short story nominees, and I got the other one from the library.
  1. The Faithful: "This one was not really dated after 75+ years. It tells a moving story of the extinction of mankind while the races we have attempted to uplift figure out both how to carry on without us and to honor us."
  2. Hyperpilosity: "It was a cheesy story about a "future" episode during which everyone started getting very hairy. It tried to be funny and clever, but fell flat. It wasn't helped by the outdated portrayals of women and Mexicans."
  3. Helen O'Loy: "It's a story about two men who build a robotic woman and the romance that develops thereafter. Helen O'Loy=Helen of Troy=Helen Alloy. Get it? If you don't, it's spelled out in the story."
  4. No Award. This is my dividing line between "I didn't like it," and "It wasn't very good.
  5. How We Went to Mars: One of Arthur C. Clarke's first stories. I'm glad he improved his craft, and stopped trying to write humor.
  6. Hellerbochen's Dilemma: "What the heck was this? It made no sense, and seemed to be Bradbury writing down a half-remembered dream."
Quotes from my Goodreads reviews (How We Went to Mars is not on Goodreads). To give you a sense of how I felt, The Faithful got 4 stars, Hellerbochen's Dilemma 1 star and the rest 2 stars.

I've now started in on the nominees for the 2014 Campbell Award for Best New Writer. It looks like there's some interesting works submitted for consideration in this category.