linked list Thursday: “good” dads, internet chum, sports using alternate voting systems

Positive Populism: Revolutionary Ideas to Rebuild Economic Security, Family, and Community in America review

Positive Populism: Revolutionary Ideas to Rebuild Economic Security, Family, and Community in America

Positive Populism: Revolutionary Ideas to Rebuild Economic Security, Family, and Community in America by Steve Hilton

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book was a gift, and when I saw the author was a Fox News host I was quite confused. But he grew up in the UK, so he’s a European-style conservative.

And to his credit, there are some pretty good ideas in here! Some of my favorites are: more local (i.e. neighborhood) control over things that make sense, a national service program, more help/resources for parents, serious antitrust enforcement, getting rid of noncompete clauses, and a living wage(!).

There are also some less-good ideas: in particular he’s proudly a nationalist (not a white nationalist, mind you), and he was strongly pro-Brexit when he worked in the UK. And he’s enthusiastic about “green/brown” zoning, which means that land is either zoned for nature (like a park) or for any sort of development. (I don’t really know how to feel about that. Maybe it’s good?)

The book has almost a verbal tic about “elites” – it goes on and on about how elites are trying to keep you, the people, down, and it’s a bit excessive and maybe even a little dangerous.

One amusing running thread is that in the introduction he talks about how liberals and conservatives are both wrong, and only by looking for pragmatic solutions can we find things that will benefit the people. This is the kind of thing that sounds great but breaks down pretty quickly. For example, in the section about health care he says that
– Democrats want universal coverage
– Republicans want competition and consumer choice
– There have been some scandals in England’s NHS (National Health Service); it’s not so great!
– But actually people in England are very proud of the NHS despite its problems
– And obviously people shouldn’t go bankrupt because of medical bills
– So clearly the pragmatic middle ground is the government paying for healthcare, but the healthcare itself is provided by private doctors.
And I was like…umm, great, but this is clearly a leftist/Democratic position! Have you met the modern Republican party? You should watch some of the other shows on your network!

Anyway, there are a lot of interesting ideas here and it was a fairly easy read. Would recommend, even though I don’t agree with all of his policy ideas.

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Normal Accidents: Living with High-Risk Technologies review

Normal Accidents: Living with High-Risk Technologies

Normal Accidents: Living with High-Risk Technologies by Charles Perrow

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

As I’ve mentioned before, I have a bit of a fascination with airplane crashes, and several books I’ve read mentioned this one as a seminal work in describing how accidents in complex systems happen.

The main part of the book is setting up a system for categorizing systems. One dimension is “loosely-coupled” versus “tightly-coupled” – this roughly corresponds to how much slack there is in the system. A good example of a tightly-coupled system is an assembly line if parts are going down a conveyor belt or something – if something goes wrong to mess up a widget at one station, that widget will quickly be at the next station which can cause other problems.

The other dimension is “linear” versus “complex”, which roughly describes the interactions between parts of the system. An assembly line with a conveyor belt is a good example of a “linear” system because the interactions between the different stations are pretty predictable. Usually the more compact in space a system is, the more “complex” it is because lots of different parts of it are close together.

Tightly-coupled complex systems are prone to what the author calls “normal” accidents which aren’t really preventable. Basically, when a system is tightly-coupled you need to have a pretty strict plan for how to deal with things when something goes wrong, because you don’t have a lot of time for analysis or debate. (a military-like structure can help, although obviously this can have bad consequences for organizations that are not the military) But complex systems require more deliberation to figure out what’s actually going on and possibly more ingenuity to find a solution.

It’s interesting because in retrospect for each particular accident it’s usually easy to see what went wrong and what the people involved did wrong. (or what the organization did wrong before that point) The author’s point is that most of the time blaming the people involved is missing the point – these sorts of accidents are inevitable.

Most of the book is looking at specific systems (nuclear power plants, chemical plants, airplanes, marine shipping, dams, spacecraft, etc.), trying to categorize them, and looking at examples of accidents.

(I should point out that I’m grossly oversimplifying here…)

I think I mostly agree with his points, but I really don’t have the depth of experience to know how reasonable his approach is. The book was written just before Chernobyl (so the part about nuclear power plants seems prescient), but there’s also an afterward written in the late 90s about the Y2K problem and how maybe everything will be fine but there will likely be unpredictable serious problems, which didn’t pan out. So I dunno.

The book itself is pretty academic and was kind of a slog to get through even though I am interested in the topic.

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How common are walk-off walks (on four pitches!) in baseball?

I’ve been following the Astros pretty closely this season (since they’re very good this year!), and so when I saw they had won a game on a walk-off walk, I was curious how common that was.

A walk-off is when the home team wins the game on that play, by scoring a run to go ahead in the ninth or later inning. So a walk-off walk is when that happens because the batter is walked. It’s kind of very dramatic and anticlimactic at the same time!

In this case, the walk was on four pitches, which seemed exceptionally rare, because you might as well throw at least one strike, right? At first I thought “maybe this has never happened before!”, but (spoiler!) it turns out there are a lot of baseball games that have been played. So I wanted to at least know how common it was.

My baseball win expectancy finder is powered by a Python script that can parse games, so I extended the parsing code to make it easier to run these sorts of reports and ran it. (source available on GitHub, see WalkOffWalkReport in

So, the numbers: in the ~128000 games I have data for, a walk-off walk has happened only 442 times. That sounds like a lot but it’s only around 7 times a season. Not all the games have pitch-by-pitch data, but ~73500 of them do, and walk-off walks on four pitches have happened only 60 times. (not including data from this year)

Since there are roughly 2100 games per season (including the playoffs), this means we’d expect this to happen around 1 time per season. Which is indeed pretty rare!

In fact, Altuve got his walk-off walk with 2 outs – walk-off walks with 2 outs have only happened 257 times (~4 times/season), and ones on four pitches have only happened 41 times, which is around 2 every 3 seasons!

When I was in the middle of this work I remembered that baseball-reference has an incredibly powerful Event Finder, and lo and behold it can do this search as well. In fact, at first our numbers were pretty far off so I found some bugs in my script 🙂 (the numbers are still off by a few because it’s counting a walk where the fourth ball was a wild pitch and a runner scored, while my script doesn’t count those)

My original thought was that I could make it easier to use my script to find stuff like this, but the baseball-reference Event Finder is so incredibly powerful and relatively easy to use I probably won’t bother. Kudos to them!