Indignity Vol. 2, No. 45: Steph Curry against the robots.
STATISTICS DEP'T. REDUX
Can the Golden State Warriors Keep Beating Nate Silver's Nonsense Numbers Machine?
This post also appears on SFGate.
LAST TIME WE checked in with the FiveThirtyEight basketball prediction machine, in the early part of the NBA playoffs in April, the Boston Celtics were its overwhelming pick to win the title. This week, the Celtics take the floor in the NBA Finals as Eastern Conference champions, just as numbers-buffet proprietor Nate Silver's projections said they had a 59 percent chance of doing.
At the start of the playoffs, I made fun of the FiveThirtyEight numbers for being noisy and absurd—fluctuating wildly off the results of single games, and illogically rating the Celtics' chances higher than those of all the other top contenders combined. Yet the Celtics did make it out of the East. Great news for the machine! Less good news: on the other side of the tipoff, representing the Western Conference, are the Golden State Warriors, whom FiveThirtyEight gave only a 22 percent chance of making the Finals, and a 9 percent chance of winning, to the Celtics' 39 percent.
Unshaken by Golden State's success (or by the fact that the Celtics had to survive two Game Sevens to escape the East), the computer is affirming that ratio even now that the other teams have fallen away: FiveThirtyEight currently gives the Celtics an 80 percent chance of winning the Finals, to the Warriors' 20 percent.
This does not mean that Silver's computer model got here by being steady or consistent. FiveThirtyEight boasts that its "forecasts are based on 50,000 simulations of the rest of the season" and that the system ignores teams' wins and losses in favor of "our NBA player projections, which estimate each player's future performance based on the trajectory of similar NBA players."
Yet that big data set, rather than generating imperturbable views of each team's essential quality, somehow leaves the machine more fickle than the loudest TV take artist, ready to dump all 50,000 simulations' worth of its previously held opinions as soon as it sees who wins Game One. In early May, one week after it had the Celtics at 39 percent, it panicked and slashed Boston's title chances to 18 percent—half the chance it gave the Phoenix Suns. The Phoenix Suns did not make it to the Western Conference finals, let alone the Finals.
The computer was, however, resolute in discounting the Warriors. While Golden State was breezing through its opponents by a cumulative playoff record of 12–4, FiveThirtyEight kept the Warriors' championship odds in single digits, or low double digits. At the start of the Western Conference finals, the computer predicted the Warriors should lose to the Dallas Mavericks, by 73 percent to 27 percent. The Warriors brushed off Dallas in five games, by an average score of 115.2 to 106.6.
Even now, the FiveThirtyEight computer insists the Warriors don't belong. By its numeric rating system, it still considers them only the eighth-best team in the NBA this year, behind six teams that have already been sent home—including the Brooklyn Nets, who were swept out of the first round, and the Los Angeles Clippers, who couldn't get past the play-in games.
As of today, Nate Silver's model likes the Celtics to beat the Warriors even more strongly than it liked the Mavericks to. Just as when he ducked the challenge to defend his numbers back in April, of course, Silver doesn't really believe this; he won't bet $400 on the Celtics against $100 on the Warriors. The DraftKings sportsbook has the Warriors as the solid favorites, paying $162.50 on a $100 bet, while $100 on the Celtics would pay $235. I have a friend in Vegas standing by to hedge my bet if Silver is willing to defend his machine, so I'd make money either way.
Should You Get Hot Coffee, or Iced?
A “BACKDOOR COLD front" drove off the Memorial Day heat wave, lowering the high temperature 25 degrees from one day to the next. We stayed up just late enough to turn off the air conditioner and open the windows to catch the newly arriving cold air. (And the sound of a persistent car alarm from a Hyundai with Jersey plates.)
As I walked out to get coffee, wearing long pants and a t-shirt, I saw a tweet from the writer Jacqui Shine: "in that tricky shoulder season where the desire for hot coffee and the desire for iced coffee are in close contest."
It's a problem! Either drink is possible. But which one is right? The answer involves a negotiation between your past and future selves, and their competing interests. You are emerging from the season of hot drinks; it is only natural to desire a cold drink instead. However! You are entering the season of cold drinks. That iced coffee that seems like a change of pace today will soon be the boring and unavoidable default. Then, in the suffocating heat of summer, hot coffee will be too hot, and you will wonder when it will ever be feasible to drink one again. Get it hot, while you still can.
SANDWICH RECIPE DEP’T.
WE PRESENT INSTRUCTIONS for the assembly of a select sandwich from Salads, Sandwiches and Chafing Dish Recipes, Copyright 1916, now in the public domain for the delectation of all, written by Marion Harris Neil, M.C.A., former Cookery Editor, The Ladies’ Home Journal, author of How to Cook in Casserole Dishes, Candies and Bonbons and How to Make Them, Canning, Preserving and Pickling, and The Something-Different Dish.
SUNDAY NIGHT CANAPÉS
1 finnan haddie
2 tablespoonfuls cream
1 oz. (2 tablespoonfuls) sweet butter
Grated Parmesan cheese
1 teaspoonful lemon-juice
Salt and pepper to taste
Soak the haddie in milk and water for thirty minutes, then cook it, drain, and rub through a sieve. Melt the butter in a saucepan, add seasonings, cream, and sieved haddie. When hot, pile on fried croutons, sprinkle with cheese mixed with a few breadcrumbs, return to the oven for a minute, and serve very hot.
If you decide to prepare and enjoy this sandwich, kindly send a picture to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.