### Discrete events, continuous flow, and why I love basketball

In high school I played football and ran track. After high school, I've tried running, biking, ultimate frisbee and a few other sports. But if you read my blog often, you know that my passion these days is basketball.

I find it challenging and exciting in much the same way that I enjoy science. There's just so many combinations of events and so much improvisation. Plus, it's something I can play alone (shooting around), with one other person, 2-on-2 or full-court 5-on-5, giving me plenty of opportunities to practice and participate. This is in contrast to, say, football, which I'll likely never be able to play again with a full team. And as a sport to watch live or on TV, it's fun and fast-paced without all the head trauma of my old sport.

A lot about why I love basketball is summarized in this outstanding sports article (h/t Bri) about the "Kobe Assist." The main point is that Basketball cannot be thought of and analyzed in the same way as baseball. While baseball has discrete, individual accomplishments (e.g. the homerun), basketball plays are much more continuous:
Most basketball statistics refer to discrete events such as shots, steals, and rebounds that occur within the continuous context of a flowing game. Basketball is very different from baseball, but in the basketball analytics world, too often we treat our sport as if it were baseball; we kid ourselves and say a rebound or a corner 3 is akin to a strikeout or a home run, a singular accomplishment achieved by a player that's fit for tallying and displaying in a cell on some spreadsheet on some website.
There is usually a singular event that ends a possession of the ball for one team and the change of possession to the other team. But everything in between is a continuous flow, with important events such as a 3-point shot preceded by maneuvering of the ball-handler, passes, one or more screens, all occurring simultaneously with the positioning of rebounders near the basket. If you stay focused solely on the ball, you'll miss the symphony occurring away from the ball. Dunks will occur apparently out of nowhere. But for every time that Blake Griffin Mozgovs someone, there was a Randy Foy who set up the pick-n-roll, Deandre Jordan diving toward the rim taking the opposing center with him, Griffin rolling to the hoop, and Foy passing.

Similarly, those put-back rebounds of a Kobe shot can be though of as an accidental assist:
Just as the theoretical butterfly flapping its wings in Rio somehow influences the formation of a faraway hurricane, basketball outcomes exhibit sensitive dependence on previous environmental conditions, yet the analytical "baseball-ification" of our fluid sport too often neglects this basic tenet of basketball ecology. We disregard too much environmental context. As an illustration of how this baseball-ification of basketball ecology can hinder our understanding, consider the Kobe Assist, those missed shots that are more like accidental passes that lead to put-backs.
I can't wait until I get back home after this long work-trip. I miss my family and my bed. I also miss playing ball at Braun Gym!

### On the Height of J.J. Barea

Dallas Mavericks point guard J.J. Barea standing between two very tall people (from: Picassa user photoasisphoto).

Congrats to the Dallas Mavericks, who beat the Miami Heat tonight in game six to win the NBA championship.

Okay, with that out of the way, just how tall is the busy-footed Maverick point guard J.J. Barea? He's listed as 6-foot on NBA.com, but no one, not even the sports casters, believes that he can possibly be that tall. He looks like a super-fast Hobbit out there. But could that just be relative scaling, with him standing next to a bunch of extremely tall people? People on Yahoo! Answers think so---I know because I've been Google searching "J.J. Barea Height" for the past 15 minutes.

So I decided to find a photo and settle the issue once and for all.

I then used the basketball as my metric. Wikipedia states that an NBA basketball is 29.5 inches in circumfe…

### Finding Blissful Clarity by Tuning Out

It's been a minute since I've posted here. My last post was back in April, so it has actually been something like 193,000 minutes, but I like how the kids say "it's been a minute," so I'll stick with that.
As I've said before, I use this space to work out the truths in my life. Writing is a valuable way of taking the non-linear jumble of thoughts in my head and linearizing them by putting them down on the page. In short, writing helps me figure things out. However, logical thinking is not the only way of knowing the world. Another way is to recognize, listen to, and trust one's emotions. Yes, emotions are important for figuring things out.
Back in April, when I last posted here, my emotions were largely characterized by fear, sadness, anger, frustration, confusion and despair. I say largely, because this is what I was feeling on large scales; the world outside of my immediate influence. On smaller scales, where my wife, children and friends reside, I…

### The Force is strong with this one...

Last night we were reviewing multiplication tables with Owen. The family fired off doublets of numbers and Owen confidently multiplied away. In the middle of the review Owen stopped and said, "I noticed something. 2 times 2 is 4. If you subtract 1 it's 3. That's equal to taking 2 and adding 1, and then taking 2 and subtracting 1, and multiplying. So 1 times 3 is 2 times 2 minus 1."

I have to admit, that I didn't quite get it at first. I asked him to repeat with another number and he did with six: "6 times 6 is 36. 36 minus 1 is 35. That's the same as 6-1 times 6+1, which is 35."

Ummmmm....wait. Huh? Lemme see...oh. OH! WOW! Owen figured out

x^2 - 1 = (x - 1) (x +1)

So $6 \times 8 = 7 \times 7 - 1 = (7-1) (7+1) = 48$. That's actually pretty handy!

You can see it in the image above. Look at the elements perpendicular to the diagonal. There's 48 bracketing 49, 35 bracketing 36, etc... After a bit more thought we…