The Problem with the College Football Playoff

I really don’t know, offhand, if I’ve been pro- or anti-playoff for NCAA football. I liked that the BCS gave us the possibility of seeing a champion determined by playing a game, but I recognize that there are lots of arguments about who should be playing in that game.

So far this year, though, I’ve been somewhat unsatisfied with the way the playoff rankings have been determined. I think I understand them, but I’m not happy about them.

The arguments seem to have changed. Last year, Auburn just won; nobody really seemed to care that it was because Alabama totally blew field goal coverage, or Missouri forgot to defend against the run – which was, after all, only Auburn’s greatest strength. Auburn was the team of destiny, after all! — and maintained that position as the team of destiny, except the ‘destiny’ in question was to lose in the second half to FSU, just as so many teams have done this year, too.

This year, the argument seems to be around strength of schedule, and that strength of schedule is taken as a whole season. I think this is where things break down.

Strength of schedule is effective in a playoff like this only if it’s calculated before the game in question is played.

Look at Notre Dame/FSU. ND was ranked #5 before the game, and lost thanks to a controversial call.

The controversial call was not the offensive pass interference to close the game – it was that the same play hadn’t been called as a penalty earlier in the game for one of ND’s touchdowns. The refs only warned ND about the play, and then Notre Dame’s coaches got all surprised when the referees followed through on the warning and called the penalty later in the game.

Now, Notre Dame is 7-3, and out of the top 25 in the Associated Press polls. At the time of the game, this was a power matchup, and FSU got a lot of credit (which it deserved) for winning, even if it was over a one-loss team.

Note: Notre Dame’s one loss at the time was against FSU. I don’t think you should get dinged for winning a game against the team you’re actually playing.

Now, though, that game’s not really relevant except as a win – the implication is that “at least FSU didn’t lose.”

But with the playoff system, the stakes are so high that one loss can entirely deflate a team; for most teams, once they lose, they no longer have the same urgency; the rabbit’s already dead, the milk has been spilled, the water is already under the bridge. Once you have that first loss, for most teams, they get to play and enjoy – maybe play the role of spoiler, I suppose, but generally at that point it’s pride and not purpose.

Note: you want both pride and purpose when you play a sport.

The result is that once a team like Notre Dame, or Clemson, or Miami, or anyone, loses, the impact of the game on strength of schedule is minimized somewhat. That’s wrong, for the most part.

To me, a team that is ranked highly and loses, then continues losing, needs to be carefully evaluated. Perhaps it’s the spirit of the team that gets out of whack – that doesn’t mean the game wasn’t a true test, it only means that the losing team took the loss too much to heart. Perhaps it was an injury to a critical player, as happened to Miami’s Duke Johnson last year; losses after that injury don’t mean that the games in which that player was fully effective weren’t valid!

I’m still watching the playoff system to see what the results really are, long term – but right now? I think it really is a competition of brands (as Charles Pierce wrote on Grantland’s “Roll Brand! Alabama’s Win and the Problem With the New College Playoff“), and that concerns me.

I’m still at the point where I think FSU should be left on the pedestal until they get knocked off of it on the field… and at the end of games.

Review: Pink Floyd’s “Endless River”

TL;DR Go get Pink Floyd‘s Endless River. I did, and it’s great – as long as you enjoy Pink Floyd.

I bought the Floyd’s latest release – “The Endless River,” as mentioned – because it’s Pink Freaking Floyd, and it’s a new release. It’s awesome – but wants immersion. If you’re looking for something that hits you in the head crying for attention, this is not your album. If you’re looking for something that enriches your life, well… first, make sure you’ve listened to “Wish You Were Here,” but then get this release.

It’s very laconic, like most of Pink Floyd, especially their best work. Most of it’s instrumental – it only has one song with vocals, “Louder Than Words,” the last song on the album, and that’s actually the weakest song on the release for me. (I’m sorry: when Pink Floyd uses the word “diss,” it just… no. Just no.)

It makes me miss Rick Wright – the keyboardist for Pink Floyd, and the secret sauce for their best sound when working with David Gilmour – even more, and gosh I wish Roger Waters and David Gilmour could work together.

DuOS-M: Android on Windows 8.1

One of my sons recently got me invested in Ice Cold Muffin‘s ICE, a game in which you try to take over bases in a simple directed graph. It’s a lot of fun, despite the extreme simplicity – maybe other game makers could benefit from noticing how simple games can be fun.

Anyway, while it’s fun to play on my phone, it’s a little small – most of the ICE ships end up being barely perceptible. That’s probably okay, really, because you don’t win bases with single ships – you overwhelm them with fleets. But it’d still be nice to have it on the Surface, because… well, just because.

Running Android games on Windows is possible, of course, because Android has a development kit for Windows. But you wouldn’t want to run the Android emulator as an actual runtime environment.

After noticing BlueStacks and reading some reviews about it, I decided to give AMI’s DuOS-M a try; it seemed to get rave reviews and looked very clean.

Sure enough, DuOS-M worked, and worked very well; it’s trivial to install Google Apps (it comes with the Amazon Store by default, but after initial installation it directs you to a page through which you can install the Play Store as well). From there, it felt like an actual (and giant) Android installation; it was fast and convenient.

It occurs to me that with DuOS might allow me to read all of my uploaded Amazon content on the Surface, via Android. I suppose I could use it as a way to migrate away from Amazon.

At any rate, DuOS-M is well done, from what I can tell so far; I’m glad I found it. ICE is also a great game, if you’re interested in such things, written by a kid who’s only 17 – well worth supporting, in my opinion.

A few thoughts for a Monday…

Life has changed a lot lately.

First, I changed employers; I’ve left Red Hat (for various reasons) and am now working for a company that will give me a little more direct purpose, along with an imperative for using Scala. (Did you see what I did there? Scala’s typically a functional language, not an imperative one, so.. um… a pun’s still funny if you have to explain it right?)

Second, my wife and I both use the Microsoft Surface 3, in addition to our regular working computers. This means that unless you count virtual servers, I’m using more instances of Windows than anything else. (If you factor in remote hosts, Linux is still ahead.)

It’s an interesting set of changes. The job is going to be a lot of fun – a lot of work, but it’s a good fit for me, I think. Red Hat’s still a great company; if I’d not changed jobs, I’d still have been pleased to work for them.

However, this is a good change, and Scala is something I’ve enjoyed as a very casual observer; this gives me a chance to really roll up my sleeves and approach the language with a real intent and purpose.

Functional programming’s going to take some getting used to, though. I’m reading an excellent book, “Functional Programming in Scala,” but deep into the book – I cheated and read ahead – it says “Cause side-effects but shuffle them around so their location is more tolerable.” (Not a quote, even though it’s in quotes.) I’m not sure that’s a terrible idea – at some point you do have to have an actual effect – but the way it’s offered is odd. It introduces an inconsistency in the FP paradigm, and then handwaves it away.

The Surface is a wonderful device. Since it’s running the same platform as my other Windows devices (as opposed to the Surface 2’s Windows RT) I can migrate seamlessly between computers; the form factor is different, but little else is.

The form factor, however, is quite a change. I find the lack of an Insert key to be very much the absolute worst thing about the Surface – a lot of programs use it, and they left it off of the physical keyboard. (The virtual keyboard has it but eats up a lot of your screen space. I’ll use it on occasion, but definitely I far prefer the physical keyboard, which is part of the cover.)

Apart from the Insert key, the right mouse button relies on time of contact, which is something to get used to; an alternative is to use a Bluetooth mouse (or USB mouse). I’m still adjusting to that aspect of the Surface, but it’s less of a deleterious effect than the lack of a physical Insert key.

With all of that said, the Surface’ ability to be a tablet is fantastic. It’s my new book reader, hands down; the larger screen (compared to the Nook HD+) and more solid feel (along with the much higher resolution) is excellent for reading.

However, I’m moving away from Amazon; most of my library’s in the Kindle format, and I suppose that can’t entirely change (what with prior investment) but honestly, the Nook Reader application on Windows is far better; with the Amazon application for Windows, I can’t read my own content, and with Nook I can. I’m an author; I get my own books in EPUB format, and I purchase a lot of books in EPUB. With the Kindle for PC app, I can’t read them on the Surface; I have to use the Nook HD+ or my phone.

It’s not good that I can’t use my Surface for reading my own content. It’s not the Surface’ fault – it’s Amazon’s. If and when Amazon fixes it, I’ll be willing to use their reader again (and I’d prefer it, because that’s where most of my library is), but until then, Nook for Windows wins by simple default. It’s just as readable, and the fact that I can import my own content makes it a huge win.