Soweto: building on the brand

first_img25 September 2008Soweto is about to embark on another big journey. The City of Johannesburg is taking steps to turn South Africa’s famous township into a vibrant centre of economic activity – and a major-league entertainment destination and tourist drawcard – over the next five years.This icon of South Africa’s apartheid struggle, with its monotonous tracks of matching boxlike houses, is still a poor and dusty region. On 28 August, the Five Year Soweto Economic Development Plan for 2008 to 2013 was formally set in motion when it was approved by the council.According to the city’s economic development department, the plan will focus on building an iconic region with a distinct brand.“Soweto is already a brand. The issue is how to maximise that brand,” says Makhosana Msezana, the director for spatial economic development in the department of economic development.Sobering statisticsStatistics paint a sobering picture of the hard work ahead. Home to almost half of the Johannesburg population, the area contributes a tiny four percent to the city’s total economic activity.Over half of Sowetans are unemployed, while a large portion of employed residents scrape out a meagre existence from an employment sector born out of necessity, not choice – informal trading.The community services sector contributes the biggest share to the Soweto economy, at 20 percent. As a result, officials working in government structures such as schools, clinics, hospitals and the various customer service centres of the city hold most of the local buying power.But just more than a quarter of the R4.2-billion disposable income of these workers is actually spent in Soweto. To do their shopping, the majority still head to Johannesburg’s CBD or Southgate.A view of the futureWith this plan the city brings a new vision to Soweto, says Msezana. By 2013, it sees Soweto as a place where people can live, work, invest in, learn and visit.“It is a very bold vision. It is about a transformed regional economy.” And because economic circumstances can change with the flip of a coin, the plan is also flexible, he adds.For now, it provides a framework of common priorities around which the public, private, and community sector can focus their economic efforts and investment.Soweto Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SCCI) president, Nancy Nxumalo, says the plan is long overdue. “We are looking forward to this. There are a lot of small, medium and micro enterprises not in a state of achieving their best.”Living in SowetoIn future, the jagged outlines of high and medium-rise developments will break the monotony of the urban landscape.At least three massive mixed-use residential developments are in various stages of design and tender – Orlando Ekhaya, Jabulani central business precinct, and Lufhereng.Orlando Ekhaya is the largest and most ambitious of the three, with townhouse developments, lakeside flats, shops, offices and entertainment all combined into one precinct.Jabulani will be Soweto’s Melrose Arch. Housing and retail components will be integrated into this high density, mixed-use development. Clever urban design will be the defining characteristic, with buildings arranged around open spaces, and public and private spaces carefully combined. Pedestrians will take preference.Lufhereng will be another Cosmo City. With an expected 25 000 houses comprising subsidised Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP) houses for the poor; affordable housing for low income households; and middle- to high-income bonded housing, it is the biggest mixed-use, mixed-income housing development ever to be undertaken in Johannesburg.“The plan also needs to facilitate a process where there is development of a vibrant secondary property market,” says Msezana. The Sowetan property market is one of the fastest growing in the country, but it needs sophistication, he believes.The current trend is for residents to live all of their lives in one house. For this sophistication to take place, the market needs willing financial institutions, and willing buyers and sellers.Visiting SowetoSoweto is already known for its vibrant social life. This mainly takes the form of shebeens, informal bars and cafe-like restaurants, hangouts more suited to the streetwise locals than to visitors.Part of the Orlando Ekhaya plan is to bring high-class entertainment to the township. On the cards are open air stages, exclusive retail, jazz bars, authentic Sowetan restaurants and bungee jumping.There will also be the Soweto Theatre in Jabulani precinct, the first theatre for a township in South Africa. It will not be set in the typical theatre mould; designed by the Johannesburg Property Company (JPC), it will be flexible and innovative.Construction of the theatre will start in February 2009, for completion in December.Vilakazi Street is another visitor drawcard. A street rich in history as the home of both Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu, it will be turned into a semi-pedestrianised tourist precinct, with restaurants, bed and breakfasts, retail shops and other suitable visitor attractions.The new attractions will diversify the current tourist package, which focuses mainly on apartheid struggle sites such as Kliptown and the Hector Pieterson memorial.“We need to go beyond struggle credentials,” Msezana confirms.Working in SowetoBut above all, residents will need jobs. With an expected 1.1-million tourists paying the township a visit by 2013, tourism will remain one of the key economic sectors.That Soweto provides a huge snapshot of Johannesburg history will continue to work in its favour. Nationally and internationally, it enjoys iconic status, but as a whole it will need to work on general customer care and the safety and security of tourists, the plan notes.The Johannesburg Tourism Company is working on a dedicated product development package for Soweto that will incorporate the township as a tourism destination at city level.The plan also foresees the possibility of creating a satellite business process outsourcing (BPO) sector in the township, with the Soweto BPO precinct complementing the one in the inner city.At the moment the economic development department is looking at the feasibility of various locations, with Nasrec perhaps the first choice because of its future broadband ability, confirms Monique Griffith, the director of sector support, growth and sustainability. Other sites being looked at are Soweto Campus, the Funda Centre in Diepkloof, and the Soweto Empowerment Zone (SEZ).Lufhereng will also be Johannesburg’s first urban-agri estate. Small farmers already working in the area will be the beneficiaries of the plan which will look at promoting better farming methods to generate higher crop yields.Investing in SowetoThe retail sector will also continue to grow. Sowetans now have a choice of five shopping centres, with Maponya Mall the latest and probably the most upmarket.A number of large car dealerships have also stuck out their feelers. Toyota South Africa, Barloworld Automotive and the Maponya Group have plans to open Soweto’s first Toyota dealership soon.“[An] increase of retail spending from R1.05-billion to R2.1-billion over a period of five years was projected, thus indicating that there would be a need for new shopping space in Soweto,” the plan adds.The Jabulani and Orlando Ekhaya precincts again feature prominently. Between the two, up to 100 000m² of additional retail space will be provided, while Jabulani will also provide much-needed office space.One economic sector poorly developed in the region is manufacturing. The SCCI has about 1 500 members, mostly representatives of small, medium and micro enterprises (SMMEs) in the retail industry. The manufacturing industry represented in the SCCI is small in scale and needs to be grown to the point where companies can export their products, Nxumalo feels.The sector will be boosted through the SEZ, a dedicated SMME industrial park with various manufacturing clusters such as automotive, furniture and homeware being developed. The economic development department is busy appointing cluster champions to set up shop in the zone.Learning in SowetoSowetans generally still have low levels of basic skills in numeracy, literacy and communication technology which need to be addressed. Higher learning will get a boost with the University of Johannesburg Soweto Campus being upgraded to accommodate 10 000 students.The existing workforce also needs to be re-skilled or skills need to be up-scaled. And the area needs people who can create more jobs.“What is lacking is infrastructure and capacity. We need to build entrepreneurs,” Nxumalo agrees.The informal sector will not be forgotten. The plan suggests that the current programmes in business skills development with CIDA City Campus and the universities of the Witwatersrand and Johannesburg, be extended to Soweto.Too often the mistake we make is to formalise the informal sector, instead of helping businesses in the sector to become successful informal enterprises, Msezana believes.“We want them to become better at their business.”While it was designed along the same lines as all apartheid townships, Soweto has become a unique and vibrant place. “Soweto has become more sophisticated than other townships,” Msezana concludes.With the help of the City of Johannesburg, the time has finally come for Sowetans to start building on this.Source: City of Johannesburglast_img read more

Shark encounters in South African waters

first_img21 July 2015Professional surfer Mick Fanning was attacked by a great white shark in Jeffreys Bay, in Eastern Cape, while he was surfing in the finals of the J-Bay Open on 19 July.The incident put shark attacks front and centre, but the KwaZulu-Natal Sharks Board reports that an analysis of South African shark attack records over the last four decades confirm that attacks are rare, with an average of only six incidents a year.“Since 1990 only 26% of attacks have resulted in serious injury and only 15% were fatal. This equates to an average of one serious shark-inflicted injury every year and one shark-inflicted fatality every 1.2 years along some 2 000km of coastline from the Mozambique border to Table Bay (Cape Town),” says the sharks board.Shark Spotters, a pioneering shark safety programme and now the main shark safety programme used in Cape Town, echoes the words of the KwaZulu-Natal organisation.It says that shark bites are rare typically random events. “On the Cape Peninsula, the first fatalities were recorded at Seaforth and Simonstown, in 1900 and 1901. Since 1960 however, only 25 attacks have occurred on the Cape Peninsula. That is less than one attack per year.“Of these 25 attacks on the peninsula, a high percentage has been on spear fishers. Only four of these last 25 attacks have proved to be fatal. Sharks don’t see people as their natural prey, but they may occasionally bite to investigate what you are, they may also bite because they feel threatened or in some cases they may even mistake people as their prey.”The ones that got awayFanning was lucky to fend off the animal by punching it as it bit through the leash affixing his surfboard to his ankle. He is not alone; in recent months, there have been several other times people have lived to tell the tale.Buffelsbaai – 28 June 2015: A man in his early twenties lost a leg in a shark attack while surfing. Medics reported that people who were with him in the water loaded him on to a surfboard and brought him to shore.Plettenberg Bay – 27 June 2015: Surfer Dylan Reddering, 23, survived a brush with a 3m-long great white while surfing, emerging from the incident with only severe tissue damage on the right side of his body. He kicked and beat the shark away while trying to swim to shore.Port St Johns – 3 May 2015: Backpacker tour operator Mathieu Dasnois, 29, was testing a new face mask when he was attacked by a great white shark at least 4m long. The shark grabbed his hand when Dasnois tried to fend him off. The boat went to his aid but the shark breached from underneath and pulled him away with Dasnois’ foot in his mouth. He managed to get his foot free and escaped when the shark tried to breach again.Nahoon Beach – 23 January 2015: A bather was bitten on the foot by a ragged-tooth shark while swimming in the surf. He was treated at the scene by lifeguards and was expected to make a full recovery.Muizenberg Beach – 1 August 2014: A surfer was badly injured when he was attacked by a shark while in the breakers. He sustained severe lacerations to his lower limbs and had to be airlifted to hospital.Fish Hoek – 29 September 2011: Michael Cohen, 43, lost a leg when he was bitten by what was thought to be a great white shark. The Briton had allegedly ignored warnings from shark spotters and insisted on bathing anyway. At the time, News24 reported that the shark alarm could not be sounded because of a city-wide power failure.Fanning’s close encounterWatch as Fanning faces off against the shark:Speaking in Sydney, Australia this morning, Fanning described the attack as a “very humbling” experience. He was grateful to those who came to his rescue.“I guess someone was looking out for me. to walk away from a shark attack without a scratch on you, it’s a miracle really.”Looking back at the footage afterwards, he said he was shocked to see how big the shark was. “I didn’t think the shark was that big when I first saw it. then I went back [to the footage] and looked. yeah, it was pretty big.”Speaking about the attack, he said: “It just sort of came up and went for the tail. I don’t know why it didn’t bite my board. it just kept coming back. I was trying to put my board between us. All of a sudden it came again. It tried to position myself away from it, to the side of it. It was right there and that is when I punched.”He wondered what to do: “Should I go for my board or swim? I turned around and I had my fist ready. luckily by that stage the boat and the jet skis were on top of us. They did such a great job.”Shark protectionThe KwaZulu-Natal Sharks Board says that in the early days, most attacks took place on swimmers in warm, shallow waters on KwaZulu-Natal beaches, but the shark nets, now working concurrently with the drumlines, have greatly reduced the number of these incidents in the province to less than one a year.For over a decade the sharks board experimented with electrical fields to repel sharks. In 1996, this culminated in the development and sale of a successful electrical shark repellent, the SharkPod (Protective Oceanic Device).Distribution of the SharkPod ended in 2001, but the rights to use the waveform patented by the board were granted to an Australian company, SeaChange – now called Shark Shield – which now produces repellent devices for use by individuals.The board is investigating the possibility of using its patented waveform in a shark repellent cable that potentially would surround an entire bathing area with an electrical field. In 2010, the organisation contracted the services of physicists and electrical engineers to assist with this line of research. The project is ongoing.SAinfo reporterlast_img read more

Twitter Hires Away MySpace Director of Business Development

first_imgThe Dos and Don’ts of Brand Awareness Videos marshall kirkpatrick Related Posts Facebook is Becoming Less Personal and More Pro… Companies used to pay millions of dollars to splash advertisements on the front page of MySpace, back when that social network was the hottest one on the web. One of the people in charge of selling those ads was Rita Garg, a Stanford and Harvard educated mathematician and economist.Today Garg announced, in a Tweet, that she’s left MySpace and is now working on business development at Twitter Inc. Twitter keeps scooping up the leaders from other giant tech companies, ReadWriteWeb reported first last month that Bing chief scientist Alek Ko?cz left Microsoft to join Twitter as well. That sounds like as good a use of the company’s coffers filled with venture capital as any.Prior to taking the MySpace position, Garg worked at Google’s YouTube, the Wall St. Journal and at Disney doing technology integration and strategy, according to her LinkedIn profile. Garg says in 1999 she “developed [an] algorithm enabling [Disney] execs to forecast lifetime profitability of new movie release across all ancillary worldwide film markets, based on opening box office weekend.”Garg went back to school and received an MBA from Harvard in 2008 and then this technologist got a business job. She worked at MySpace for nearly three years doing business development. She joined in July, 2008 – one month after Facebook first passed the old incumbent in monthly traffic.“Rita Garg is very driven – and very likable,” says Tobias Peggs, CEO of OneRiot, who worked with Garg on integrating MySpace with his company’s real time search engine. Will it be the geeky Garg that filters its way through the maze of hundreds of Twitter employees, or the big time ad salesperson ala MySpace. “Both,” says Peggs, “that’s why she’s a great hire.” Thus is the drama we all get to speculate on when one former market leader is being passed by an innovator with its foot on the gas pedal.According to its page listing official staff members, Twitter appears to have hired at least 36 people in the last 3 weeks.center_img Guide to Performing Bulk Email Verification A Comprehensive Guide to a Content Audit Tags:#advertising#MySpace#news#social networks#twitter#web last_img read more

Australia toughen helmet standards 18 months after Phillip Hughes’ death

first_imgAustralia’s cricket board will make it compulsory for players to wear helmets when facing fast and medium-paced bowling in line with recommendations from a review into the death of Test batsman Phillip Hughes. (Safer helmet would not have saved Phillip Hughes, says report)Wicketkeepers and players fielding close to the wicket will also have to wear helmets in first class matches in accordance with the David Curtain review, which was released on Wednesday.The helmets, mandatory in games and during practice, must adhere to the highest British standard, Cricket Australia (CA) said.Hughes was struck on the back of the head by a rising delivery when batting for South Australia in a domestic match in November 2014.He died two days later in a Sydney hospital aged 25.”There’s not a day that goes by where we don’t think of Phillip,” CA boss James Sutherland told reporters at the Melbourne Cricket Ground on Wednesday.”This report won’t bring him back and it won’t do anything to ease the pain of his family or his loved ones who miss him most. (Cricket Australia asks ICC to consider ‘concussion substitutes’)”But we have a responsibility and a duty to ensure nothing like this ever happens again.”Hughes’s death shocked the cricketing world and ignited a debate about safety standards, particularly for batsmen, who face fast bowling that can exceed 150 kilometres per hour (93 mph).Hughes was wearing an Australian standard helmet when he was struck but the Curtain report said even the newer British standard helmet available at the time would not have afforded him extra protection from the blow.advertisementThe report also said an apparent delay in the arrival of the ambulance team that treated Hughes played no part in his death.”I am of the opinion the attention received by Phillipafter being struck had no role whatsoever on his subsequent demise, due to the nature and severity of his injury,” it said.The report also recommended wicketkeepers play with protective eye-wear but stopped short of endorsing the clip-on neck guards on the back of helmets, which some players have worn after Hughes’s death.Sutherland said CA still encouraged players to wear the guards but conceded, like the report, that more research was required to determine whether they actually increased safety.”Were certainly taking up the running on that to make sure we understand it better,” he said.Sutherland said the board had also sought approval from the International Cricket Council to trial the use of injury substitutes who could bat and bowl in domestic games.Substitutes have been permitted to replace injured or ill players in matches for over 100 years but are not allowed to bat, bowl or act as wicketkeepers or captains, according to the laws of the game.Initially the substitutes would replace players ruled out by concussion but in future their use could be expanded to include other forms of injury, Sutherland added.last_img read more

Workers’ Monument to be Upgraded

first_imgStory Highlights The Workers’ Monument located at the corner of Ocean Boulevard and Pechon Street in downtown Kingston will be upgraded with an image that fittingly honours those persons who fought during the labour movement 80 years ago. The announcement was made by Minister of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sport, the Hon. Olivia Grange, during her address at the annual Commemoration and Remembrance Ceremony at the monument on Tuesday (May 15). center_img The Workers’ Monument located at the corner of Ocean Boulevard and Pechon Street in downtown Kingston will be upgraded with an image that fittingly honours those persons who fought during the labour movement 80 years ago.The announcement was made by Minister of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sport, the Hon. Olivia Grange, during her address at the annual Commemoration and Remembrance Ceremony at the monument on Tuesday (May 15).“We will be establishing a committee, with representation from the Ministry of Labour and Social Security, the Jamaica Confederation of Trade Unions, the Ministry of Local Government and Community Development, the Kingston and St. Andrew Municipal Corporation, the Urban Development Corporation (UDC), Jamaica National Heritage Trust (JNHT) and my Ministry, to determine the way forward in terms of completing this monument,” she informed.She noted that the memorial was restored during Labour Day 2017 and the committee will make a final determination “on what the image will be that will be placed at the top of this monument”.The Workers’ Monument, erected during Labour Day observances in 1977, symbolises the power of unity and the way forward to build a better Jamaica.It serves as a reminder of the struggle of the Jamaican workers in the 1930s for better wages and more rights. The fight of the workers served as a catalyst for the movement towards Independence, which Jamaica was granted in 1962.Minister of Labour and Social Security, Hon. Shahine Robinson, in her address, said the Ministry is pleased with its relationship with employers and trade unions, for the objective of preserving the legacy created by those who fought for Jamaican workers to have better wages and more rights.“As Minister with responsibility for labour and on behalf of the Government and people of Jamaica, I extend my heartfelt thanks to the tripartite partners and wish to use this opportunity to reaffirm my commitment and that of the Government in ensuring that the established social dialogue platform, from which we proudly work together as one, will be preserved and used to the benefit of all Jamaicans,” she said.The Commemoration and Remembrance Ceremony included a floral tribute and a minute of silence in honour of those who fought during the workers’ protests 80 years ago.It forms part of Workers’ Week, being observed from May 14 to 23 under the theme ‘Preserving our Legacy: Unfolding Progress’.Workers’ Week will culminate on Labour Day, Wednesday, May 23, under the theme ‘Ramp It Up… Fix It Up’.Activities will focus on constructing ramps in schools to enable physically challenged persons to access these buildings, and upgrading health centres to enhance the environment for medical staff and clients.The Ministry of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sport is spearheading Labour Day activities through partnerships with the Ministries of Education, Youth and Information; Health; Local Government and Community Development; and Labour and Social Security as well as Municipal Corporations islandwide.last_img read more

Port of Oakland Terminals Night Gates Here to Stay

first_imgzoom Port of Oakland said that its busiest marine terminal Oakland International Container Terminal will make evening operations permanent following a three-month trial.The port said that night gates will continue to take pressure off busier daytime container pick-up or delivery operations.Oakland International Container Terminal launched night gates in late June when it started offering full night operations from Monday through Thursday for truck drivers to haul cargo.According to data compiled by the terminal and the port, about 1,300 container transactions nightly have migrated from day to evening. The night operations also led to a drop in average transaction time for truck drivers from 96 minutes in August to 79 minutes last week, while thirty percent of trucking companies at the port reduced congestion surcharges assessed to customers for picking up containers.A survey conducted by the port showed that 74 percent of cargo owners use Oakland night gates due to less terminal crowding. Sixty-five percent of owners said that night gates contributed to an improvement in transaction times.Oakland International Container Terminal said it will continue to charge customers a USD 30 fee to finance night gates. About 6,000 trucks pass through the terminal’s gates daily, making it one of the busiest in the US. It handles 70 percent of the containerized cargo in Oakland.A neighboring Oakland marine terminal, TraPac, said it is currently experimenting with night gates.last_img read more

Payette takes on climate change deniers and horoscopes at science conference

first_imgOTTAWA – One month into her new job as Canada’s Governor General, Julie Payette is taking on fake news and bogus science.Payette was the keynote speaker at the ninth annual Canadian Science Policy Convention in Ottawa Wednesday night where she urged her friends and former colleagues to take responsibility to shut down the misinformation about everything from health and medicine to climate change and even horoscopes that has flourished with the explosion of digital media.“Can you believe that still today in learned society, in houses of government, unfortunately, we’re still debating and still questioning whether humans have a role in the Earth warming up or whether even the Earth is warming up, period,” she asked, her voice incredulous.“And we are still debating and still questioning whether life was a divine intervention or whether it was coming out of a natural process let alone, oh my goodness, a random process.”She generated giggles and even some guffaws from the audience when she said too many people still believe “taking a sugar pill will cure cancer if you will it good enough and that your future and every single one of the people here’s personalities can be determined by looking at planets coming in front of invented constellations.”Payette was trained as a computer engineer and later became an astronaut and licensed pilot and in 1999 was the first Canadian to board the International Space Station.Appointed by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, one of the conference-goers Wednesday noted she was now the second astronaut to be part of the Trudeau government, along with Transport Minister Marc Garneau.Trudeau has pledged to give science a more prominent place in his government’s policy-making, appointing a chief science adviser earlier this fall and undergoing a national science policy review that reported in the spring. The government’s response to the report of the scientific review panel is still in the works.Science Minister Kirsty Duncan speaks at the conference Thursday evening where she is expected to outline more of the government’s vision for science. Chief Science Adviser Mona Nemer addresses the gathering earlier in the day.Payette clearly signalled her background will play a major role in her tenure as Governor General.She urged her former colleagues in the room to be “vigilant” and aim to make science a topic so well known and understood it is a subject of conversation at cocktail parties in the same way people now talk about the weather or the latest hockey scores.She said the “the internet, social media, 24-hour news” have meant more and more information is accessible to the public. A learned society is a better society, Payette said, but the fake news and bogus scientific claims have to be refuted.“Democracy and society have always gained from learned debate but we have to remain vigilant and we cannot let ourselves fall into complacency and we must be vocal, all the time, everywhere, every single one of us, so we can deconstruct misinformation and don’t end up in an echo chamber just listening to what we want to hear,” Payette said.— follow @mrabson on Twitter.last_img read more

Rich Data Poor Data

This story appears in ESPN The Magazine’s March 2 Analytics Issue. Subscribe today!In the 2000 edition of Baseball Prospectus, Keith Woolner identified 23 problems — avenues of analysis that had been dead ends for turn-of-the-millennium statheads. (For instance, No. 10: “Projecting minor league pitchers accurately.”) Woolner named these Hilbert Problems, after mathematician David Hilbert, who in 1900 outlined his own set of 23 vexing mathematical problems that he hoped would be solved in the 20th century.Of Hilbert’s 23 math problems, just 10 have been answered — not a great track record for more than a century’s worth of work. While Woolner’s baseball problems don’t lend themselves to mathematics’ hard-and-fast proofs, we have become a lot better at, say, “measuring the catcher’s role in run prevention” (No. 3). There’s still a margin of error in calculating how valuable Yadier Molina is to the Cardinals; nevertheless, the progress in baseball is remarkable.Analysts have made huge strides in “separating defense into pitching and fielding” (problem No. 1): The discovery that pitchers have relatively little control over balls in play has increased the value put on fielding and pitchers’ strikeout ability. And research into “determining optimal pitcher usage strategies” 
(No. 20) has led teams to transform struggling starters into top-shelf middle relievers with ERAs that would make Bob Gibson blush. Indeed, the shift toward pitching and defense reflects the rise of sabermetrics as much as the decline of juiced balls or juiced players.And all of this has taken 15 years, rather than since William McKinley was president. Sure, teams could still glean more about “assessing the ‘coachability’ of players” (No. 13) or “quantifying the manager’s impact on winning” (No. 22). But baseball analysts can’t complain, unlike their counterparts in other fields.As I describe in my book “The Signal and the Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail but Some Don’t,” the rapid and tangible progress in sports analytics is more the exception than the rule. It’s important to remind sports nerds — who, as they look at streams of PER or wRC+ numbers, have become a bit spoiled — of this fair and maybe even obvious point. Because out there in the wider world, questions far more basic than Woolner’s remain unresolved. We still have tremendous trouble predicting how the economy will perform more than a few months in advance, or understanding why a catastrophic earthquake occurs at a particular place and time, or knowing whether a flu outbreak will turn into a bad one.It’s not for any lack of interest in data and analytics. For a while, I gave a lot of talks to promote my book and met a lot of people I might not encounter otherwise: from Hollywood producers and CEOs of major companies to the dude from India who hoped to be the Billy Beane of cricket.But there’s a perfect storm of circumstances in sports that makes rapid analytical progress possible decades before other fields have their Moneyball moments. Here are three reasons sports nerds have it easy:1. Sports has awesome data.Give me a sec. Really, I’ll only need a second. I just went to Baseball-Reference.com and looked up how many at-bats have been taken in major league history. It’s 14,260,129.The volume is impressive. But what’s more impressive is that I can go to RetroSheet.org and, for many of those 14 million at-bats, look up the hitter, the pitcher, who was on base, how many people attended the game and whether the second baseman wore boxers or briefs. It’s not just “big data.” It’s something much better: rich data.By rich data, I mean data that’s accurate, precise and subjected to rigorous quality control. A few years ago, a debate raged about how many RBIs Cubs slugger Hack Wilson had in 1930. Researchers went to the microfiche, looked up box scores and found that it was 191, not 190. Absolutely nothing changed about our understanding of baseball, but it shows the level of scrutiny to which stats are subjected.Compare that to something like evaluating the American economy. The problems aren’t in the third decimal place: We sometimes don’t even know whether the sign is positive or negative. When the recession hit in December 2007 — the worst economic collapse since the Great Depression — most economists didn’t believe we were in one at all. The recession wasn’t officially identified until December 2008. Imagine what this would be like in sports! We’re not sure how many points Damian Lillard scored last night, but we’re reasonably confident it was between 27 and negative 2. Check back in a few months.As if statheads weren’t spoiled enough, we’re getting more data all the time. From PITCHf/x to SportVU, we have nearly a three-dimensional record of every object on the field in real time. Questions once directed at scouts — Does Carmelo really get back on defense? What’s the break on Kershaw’s curve? — are now measurable.2. In sports, we know the rules.And they don’t change much. As I noted, there has been little progress in predicting earthquakes. We know a few basic things — you’re more likely to experience an earthquake in California than in New Jersey — but not a lot more.What’s the problem? “We’re looking at rock,” one seismologist lamented to me for my book. Unlike a thunderstorm, we can’t see an earthquake coming, nor can we directly observe what triggers it. Scientists have identified lots of correlations in earthquake data, but they have relatively little understanding of what causes one at any particular time. If there are a billion possible relationships in geology’s historical data, you’ll come up with a thousand million-to-one coincidences on the basis of chance alone. In seismology, for instance, there have been failed predictions about earthquake behavior in locations from Peru to Sumatra — all based on patterns that looked foolproof in the historical data but were random after all.False positives are less of an issue in sports, where rules are explicit and where we know a lot about causality. Take how we evaluate pitcher performance. It turns out that if you want to forecast a pitcher’s future win-loss record, just about the last thing to look at is his previous record. Instead, focus on his ERA, or better yet his strikeout-to-walk ratio, or maybe even the PITCHf/x data on pitch velocity and location.Why? Winning is the name of the game, and you win by allowing fewer runs than your opponent. So ERA says more about winning than a pitcher’s record. But you can do even better: Runs are prevented by striking out batters (and not walking them), and strikeouts are generated by throwing good pitches, which is why WHIP and strikeouts per nine innings also serve predictive purposes. Understanding the structure of the system gives statistical analysis a much higher batting average.3. Sports offers fast feedback and clear marks of success.One hallmark of analytically progressive fields is the daily collection of new data that allows researchers to rapidly test ideas and chuck the silly ones. One example: dramatically improved weather forecasts. The accuracy of hurricane landfall predictions, for instance, has almost tripled over the past 30 years.Sports, especially baseball, fits in this category too. In Billy Beane’s first few years running the A’s, the team had awful defenses — bad enough that Matt Stairs briefly played center. Beane theorized that because defense was so hard to quantify, he shouldn’t focus on it. His assumption turned out to be completely wrong. As statheads came to learn about defense, it proved to be more important than everyone thought, not less. Because the A’s were playing every day and Beane could study the defensive metrics like dWAR that emerged, he learned quickly and adjusted his approach. His more recent teams have had much-improved defenses.Contrast this with something like presidential elections, in which lessons come once every four years, if at all. Mitt Romney’s belief that the 2012 election was his for the taking (it wasn’t, according to both public polls and political science research) may have led him to underinvest in his get-out-the-vote operations. He underestimated Barack Obama’s popularity and his own ability to sway voters with his message. Republicans will have to wait until 2016 to improve their approach.It also helps that sports has a clear objective: winning. Obvious? Sure. But that’s not the case in other subjects. What counts as “winning” for the U.S. economy, for instance? Is it low inflation or high growth? If it’s growth, does it matter how the income is distributed? You have opinions about that, and I do too, and we might not agree even given all the data in the world.But the zero-sum nature of sports competition (there are a finite number of wins and championships to go around) also yields the greatest risk to continued innovation. When I was working for Baseball Prospectus a decade ago, most of the innovation was occurring among outsiders like us. It was competitive, but the point of getting a data “scoop” was to publish it for the rest of the world to see.Now almost all MLB teams employ a statistical analyst, if not a small gaggle of them. But those analysts are working on behalf of just one team — and have less incentive to share. At the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference every year, the panels featuring current employees of major league teams are deathly dull because if the panelists said anything useful to a roomful of their competitors, they would be fired. Sports analytics runs the risk of losing the momentum of the past 15 years.Woolner, for his part, is now the director of baseball analytics for the Indians. No doubt he has 23 new problems to solve. But now it will take the rest of us longer to know when he has cracked them. read more

How The Red Sox And Dodgers Made It To The World Series

It’s been almost seven months since the Major League Baseball season started, and here we are, finally ready to determine a champion. We’ve been tracking — and forecasting — each team’s chances all season long, so we wanted to look back at the paths to the World Series taken by Boston and Los Angeles. Our final predictions give the Red Sox the edge over the Dodgers in the series, 60 percent to 40 percent — but as we know, anything can happen when the players take the field.Check out our latest MLB predictions. read more

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