The Story Behind The Netflix Contest

If you have the time, take a listen to Leo Laporte and Amber MacArthur’s Net @ Night podcast from last week. They had a great conversation with The Ensemble, the team who appears to have submitted the winning submission for the Netflix Prize. As they said repeatedly during the podcast, the suspense of the story is like a movie.

If you are not familiar, a few years ago Netflix announced a contest where they will award $1 Million to any individual or team who substantially improve[s] the accuracy of predictions about how much someone is going to love a movie based on their movie preferences. The minimum improvement in order to be considered for the grand prize is 10%.

The final results of the contest will be announced in September, once Netflix runs the algorithms of the top two submissions through a “pure” data set, in order to validate that the algorithm performance is not skewed by the data used during the contest period. Based on the final submissions, The Ensemble team has the highest improvement at 10.1%.

The Shortstop Curse

As I wake up from last weekend’s drubbing at the hands of the Yankees, and stare at the train wreck that the 2009 Red Sox season has become, I continue to be amazed at the comedy of errors that the Red Sox’ front office has made at the critical position of shortstop. Call it the “Curse of Orlando” or maybe the “Curse of Nomaaaah”. It is true that since that fateful trade deadline deal in 2004 that sent Nomar Garciaparra packing, the Red Sox have won two World Series (two more than I anticipated in my lifetime), and they have consistently been in the playoff hunt. You can’t argue with that success. However, when you “peel back the Onion” a bit, you see a concerning trend of decisions and moves, none more head scratching than the revolving door of underwhelming shortstops.

Most recently, they traded away their latest mistake, Julio Lugo, and have brought back 2006 re-tread Alex Gonzalez, a great fielder who can’t hit is way out of a paper bag. Since their magical run to the 2004 World Series, this is the list of shortstops they have run in and out of (and back in to) town:

2004 – Orlando Cabrera, Pokey Reese
2005 – Edgar Renteria, Alex Cora, Hanley Ramirez
2006 – Alex Gonzalez
2007 – Royce Clayton, Julio Lugo
2008 – Julio Lugo, Jed Lowrie
2009 – Julio Lugo, Nick Green, Jed Lowrie, Alex Gonzalez

What’s most baffling to me is that all of this could have been avoided if they just signed Cabrera after the 2004 World Series for, if I recall, $25-30Mil over 3 or 4 years. I could not believe they did not do it then, and I still curse the decision. This inept judgment was made exponentially worse when they turned around and signed Edgar Renteria for 4 years/$40Mil, and he turned out to be a bust of epic proportions. A few years later, they did essentially the same thing (!!) by signing Julio Lugo to a 4 year/$36Mil contract, and he too was an epic bust. Renteria and Lugo combined have cost the Sox more than double what Cabrera would have cost. Through all of this, “OC” had, and continues to have, solid performance on the field and at the plate for Anaheim and Oakland. Instead of traipsing out 10+ different shortstops during that 3-4 year period, they could have had the steady “OC” there. Now we all know that Hanley Ramirez could have been that stud shortstop for the Sox, but he was traded away while Theo was walking out of Fenway in a gorilla costume, a deal that has been beneficial for both organizations but still always prompts the “what if” questions.

So as we slog through the dog days of August, and the Sox try to claw back into the Wild Card race, let’s hope that the three headed shortstop monster of Alex Gonzalez, Jed Lowrie, and Nick Green can pull something out of their collective hat and help turn this thing around. I’m not holding my breath.

Tweets of the Week

  • I joined a thread: coffee or tea? #
  • Yes, I have confirmed that it was the Pawtucket Red Sox playing this weekend in the Bronx. #
  • Wondering when football sesaon starts. One game away from another Boston Massacre. I think they sent the PawSox to the Bronx this weekend #
  • If you like your BBQ sauce with a *kick*, I highly recommend Stubbs BBQ Sauce – #
  • RT @sportsguy33 That game didn’t just kill the 2009 Red Sox season, it chopped it up and put it in different suitcases like a serial killer. #
  • Looks like playstation is right on the money with Pedroia – #
  • Oh boy…Paps is coming in. Not sure how happy I am about this. Why am I getting flashbacks of Bob “Steamer” Stanley #

One Last Riff

The guitar pioneer Les Paul left us today. What’s most interesting is that not only did he invent the electric guitar, but he also experimented and created new recording techniques:

There he experimented with recording techniques, using them to create not realistic replicas of a performance but electronically enhanced fabrications. Toying with his mother’s old Victrola had shown him that changing the speed of a recording could alter both pitch and timbre. He could record at half-speed and replay the results at normal speed, creating the illusion of superhuman agility. He altered instrumental textures through microphone positioning and reverberation. Technology and studio effects, he realized, were instruments themselves.

Ferris, The Geek And Bender

Those are a few of the characters that John Hughes created through the numerous films that he wrote and/or directed during the 1980’s and 1990’s. Sadly, John Hughes died today at age 59. So I thought I would take a second to acknowledge him.  The movies that he was responsible for, and the influence his movies had on those who grew up in the 1980’s and 1990’s, is beyond compare. Dare I say that Hughes was the most prolific and influential director of this era? It’s not that far fetched. Let’s take a look. They may not have been Oscar winners, but their influence and cult like status is unmatched. Between 1984 and 1986 here are just a few of the movies he directed, produced, or wrote: Sixteen CandlesThe Breakfast Club, Weird Science, Ferris Bueller’s Day OffPretty In Pink, Mr. Mom, Planes, Trains & Automobiles, Some Kind of Wonderful, and National Lampoon’s Vacation/European Vacation. To this day, these movies still make me laugh. The characters he created were funny, quirky, unique, and more than anything, real. We lost a little bit of our youth today.

A Song that Shimmers

A short, but great, interview with Adam Duritz of the Counting Crows on his favorite “summer song”, ‘Save It For Later’ by English Beat, and the experience he had when he saw what would eventually be English Beat’s last show. I would have to enthusiastically agree with him…it’s a favorite of mine and the way he describes the “absolute joy of the song” is spot on.