Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Spending Less Time On Trivial Matters

My second New Year's Resolution is to spend less time on trivial matters. That's pretty broad, so let me expand on it.

Trivial matters are things that serve absolutely no practical purpose at all. There's no end product, no benefit and typically no real aim to them. They vary for each of us but Facebook, YouTube and other social media probably rank quite highly on the list - they certainly do for me. According to my Facebook year-in-review video, I clicked the Like button over 10,000 times - and I found that alarming.

So, this year, the first thing I've done is to delete the Facebook app from my phone. It's been a great change: I no longer get any notifications direct to my phone, so I am completely free from the cycle of post, get notification, post comment, read updates, get notifications, read comments, and so on. I do still read and update information on Facebook, but it's when I want to and not just because I received an update 30 seconds ago. I'm also busier living life without thinking I have to update social media with my latest thoughts just because I thought them.

The twitter app is next to go. I rarely tweet, but still suffer updates from the app.  Life is better and more productive without trivial interruptions.

And that's the point: to make the most of the day by not wasting it on procrastination or unproductive activities. 

There are other pastimes that can quickly become waste-times: for me, computer games and game apps are next. I've hardly had time to play any computer games since Lizzie was born, and certainly not since Ben was born - and that was five years ago. They are games, by definition they're trivial and unproductive - especially if they're just solo games when they're solo games - I'm not even socialising.

Having said that, playing with my children is not a trivial matter - spending time with them is vital, whether that's talking, playing or just spending time with them. That's what the trivial matters are being pushed aside for.

Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Colossians 4:5

Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Ephesians 5:15-16

Make the most of every opportunity. Spend less time on trivial matters.

Repair not Replace

My first new year's resolution is to repair not replace, and to make the most of what I have instead of always looking for the next new big thing.  

I have a steady supply of superglue, a small vice; jeweller's screwdrivers and a "handy desk tool", for repairing minor damage to most plastic toys, along with a set of tools that will cover most domestic tasks. I'm getting quite good at repairing toys, so I'm learning some (useful) skills too - certainly more useful than just flashing the cash on replacement items.

Repairing not replacing is not only cheaper - after all, superglue and sellotape are not that expensive - but it's also more environmentally friendly. The mix of materials in a typical household item (especially a toy) makes it unlikely to be recyclable. 

In our modern culture, things don't even need to be broken before we replace them.  Adverts frequently tell us that we need the new model, latest version or the updated device. However, I know that I don't need to replace my computer, the one I have can either be upgraded or left as it is. My digital piano (17 years old) works, is connected to my PC (itself now about six years old) and both are still adequate for my needs. So instead of following the norm of endlessly replacing and throwing away, I will continue to work towards getting the very best out of what I have - by doing unusual things such as reading instructions and reading books about music, photography and so on (borrowed from the library) to enable me to do those things better.  There are more important things in life than always having the newest stuff:
Then Jesus told them, "Be careful to guard yourselves against every kind of greed, because a person's life doesn't consist of the amount of possessions he has."  Luke 12:15, ISV

But godliness with contentment is great gain.  1 Timothy 6:6, NIV

Finally, buying more stuff is going to make it harder for me to have less stuff at the end of the year than at the start, which is one my aims for the year, in line with another of my resolutions - to give away more than I receive. More on that next time.

Friday, 6 January 2017

Ten Things I Learned In Fantasy Football

This year, for the second year, I joined my workplace Fantasy NFL Football league, even though I'm nowhere near my 'workplace'.  I work from home in the UK, and most of my colleagues are based in Texas, so I don't get much chance to engage with them outside of a work environment - so I seized this opportunity.  Some of my colleagues asked me if I knew that this was American football (some of them with more sarcasm than others), but they were all very welcoming.  And I can assure you that I know enough about football (I'm going to call it football instead of American Football - it's just quicker to type) to understand the rules of the game, the aims of the game and the basic stats (yards, passes, interceptions and so on).  We use the Yahoo fantasy football scoring system (points per 100 yards, typically, with extra points for touchdowns) - which I soon got to grips with (and produced my own Excel spreadsheet to identify the good players, as you do).

Now, although I understand the rules, I had no idea about who the best players were, so I really did start from scratch - reviewing the previous year's data and rankings, understanding how Yahoo scores each player, and so on.  This means I had no preconceptions (also known as 'experience') about the best players or the most successful teams. They are all just names to me.  Le'Veon Bell's arrest for drugs; Cam Newton's Christian faith (and his fashion sense); Derek Carr's philanthropy... I wasn't aware of any of them.

However, here's what I learned:

1. Some Americans are extremely competitive. Not just the actual football teams and players, but my workmates - and some of them take this very, very seriously.  (I have the advantage of having nothing to lose - after all, is an Englishman supposed to know anything about the NFL?  Don't English men just drink tea and play cricket?).  I had heard about trash talk, but now I know what it means - and thankfully last season, most of it was directed between other players.  This season, there was almost none at all.  Perhaps my American colleagues just weren't trying hard enough?

From "If Brits Played American Football" YouTube video.

2.  As they say when advertising risky financial products, previous performance is not really an indicator of future performance.  It's okay to review a previous season, or even a previous game, but it's not going to give you all the answers.  It's good as an indication of a player's abilities and potential performance, but it's not comprehensive or totally reliable.  More detailed information about player form and fitness, and the strength of their opposition is also important. Fitness levels are important -more than just the "Questionable" that Yahoo listings provide:  wider reading is recommended. For example, Derek Carr (QB) scored 47 points one week... and just 7 the next.  I bet you didn't see that coming.

3.  Yahoo's own points projections are unreliable at best.  I suspect they're produced at the start of the season and not adapted or updated based on circumstances or form throughout the season, because there have been times when my players have massively outperformed them (Le'Veon Bell (RB) and Julio Jones (WR) are two examples) and yet they've not seen their projections change for the following week.

4. MVP (Most Valuable Player) can also stand for Most Variable Player.  I had Cam Newton (QB) on my team last year, and again this year.  I also drafted Derek Carr (QB), who has had a season of two halves.  There was even a week where I played Marcus Mariota (QB), (which worked out for me).

Overall, Derek Carr scored 328 points, 14% more than Cam Newton's 287.  However, Derek Carr was less consistent:  his maximum scores were 47 (week 8) and 31 (week 4), and his minimum scores were 7 (week 9) and 4 (week 14).  Yes, just 4 points.  His overall spread of results is 4 - 47, which is 43 points.  For Cam, the maximum scores are 40 and 26, the minimum scores are 12 and 13, and his spread is just 27 (compared to 43 for Derek).

So, who do you pick?  There's considerable variation in both players:  Derek scored 328, Cam scored 287, but if I'd picked the better player each week (retrospectively), their combined score is 418.  This game is not just about drafting good players, it's also about playing the best one on a week-by-week basis.

How are you supposed to forecast the performances in weeks 8 (47 points) and 9 (7 points)?

5.  I have to pick my draft selections in advance, as I'm six hours ahead of my Texan friends and the draft session is too late in the day.  This is not a significant disadvantage (nor am I complaining), but it does mean I have to choose my list all at once, without knowing which of my first picks I drafted successfully.  It's a lot like running an A/B test (and I have treated the whole Fantasy Football thing like a series of A/B tests) - you have to set up your recipe before you start running the test!

I should probably confess that in my first year, I didn't realise in NFL that you can change/transfer your players each week (it's not like soccer, where there are specific transfer windows) and hence I drafted two kickers - a lead kicker and a substitute.  I didn't make that mistake this year.

Yahoo gets all sassy with my team selections in my first season
6.  It's okay to make transfers to change your team - like I said, this is really just iterative testing with more noise than usual.  It's frowned upon (halfway through the first season, I received the "Most OCD Manager" for the most roster changes), but not against the rules.

Partway through this season, I picked up Jay Ajayi (RB) and Marcus Mariota (QB).  Marcus is the new quarterback for Tennessee - this was his second season - but a few weeks into this season, I noticed his performance based on, and drafted him and played him once.  Similarly, Jay Ajayi has really developed this season, and very quickly became my second running back - my first running back slot was taken since I discovered Le'Veon Bell last season ;-)

7.  It's okay to use the wisdom of the crowd.  There are sites which compile player rankings from multiple sites and will enable you to compare one player against another, week by week (taking into account effects like injuries, opposition, and so on).  This is extremely useful if you have two players in mind - either both players in your squad, or one that you own and one that you're considering picking up as a free agent.  My personal favourite is FantasyPros.com.  These compile the rankings from sites like Yahoo, but also take into account expert rankings which are updated and reviewed every week (unlike Yahoo, as I mentioned in paragraph 3).

8.  Le'Veon Bell (RB) is an extremely good player.  He was suspended for the first four weeks of the season (as I discovered after drafting him) but has still been one of the highest scoring running backs this year.  In week 15, he achieved 55 fantasy points, which was just over a third of my team's total for the week, and possibly the best for a RB in the whole season.

9.  Bye weeks: after a few introductory weeks, each team has a week off during the season, so you'll need strength and depth to carry your team when your best player(s) are not playing.  And it helps if you can stagger your team's bye weeks, so that you don't have a large number of players out in the same week - as I discovered last year, and then remembered too late this year.  This year, I didn't pay enough attention, and had a week where two or three of my best players were all out at the same time.  A note that bye weeks are not the same as in the English Premier League, where an International weekend means that nobody plays.

10.  It's not great when you have players in your fantasy team who are playing directly against each other in a given week.  Are both players going to have good weeks, if only one of them can score points when they have possession?  This is also important when you pick your defence - it's really not a good idea to have your quarterback play against your defence - only one of them can do really well.  And if you're spelling defence with a 'c', and stressing the second syllable instead of the first, 

11.  Yes, I'm having 11 lessons, because the article title is as accurate as a Yahoo player projection.  Lesson number 11 is that if you win, you become the 'commissioner' for the next year.  From what I can tell, this is a thankless task, where you set up all the parameters for the season (the points awarded for yards, touchdowns, field goals and so on) and how many teams make it into the playoffs.  Do it well, and nobody notices.  Do it badly (or less well), and everybody complains, especially at the end of the season when everybody claims they've won; that they scored the most points; conceded the fewest; made the most player transfers (I thought this was a bad thing, but apparently not); and won in the playoffs (which everybody, for some strange reason) was entered into.  Our commissioner this year did a great job.  That's all I'm going to say :-)
My results?  I achieved 6-7-0 for this season, making the play-offs by coming third in our league of eight, and then coming third in the play-offs  My aim was to be not-last in our league, and I exceeded my own expectations.  I even made some of my colleagues nervous by winning my first two games, and climbing towards the top spot.  My weekly points average was 128.62, with a high of 192 in week 10 (Le'Veon Bell 33, Stefon Diggs 31, Cam Newton 26, Julio Jones 25) and a dreadful low of 66 in Week 3 (Willie Snead 0, Julio Jones 2).

Next season: I'll read in advance of the start of the season to identify any suspensions or injuries, then review the best players from this year. My spreadsheet is ready!

Friday, 30 December 2016

My New Year's Resolutions

I don't usually make New Year's Resolutions, but this year I am, and I am sharing them as a reminder to myself.

1. Repair not replace.
Make do and mend, in other words. In addition to this, I'd like to work on getting the best and the most out of what I already own (computer, piano,  synthesiser, camera, and so on) instead of reaching for the next new thing.

2. Spend less time on trivial matters.
The definition of trivial matters is pretty vague, but is almost certainly going to cover social media. Apparently I pressed the Like button over 10,000 times this year, which alarmed me. I've just deleted the Facebook app from my phone - let's see how that goes. And I probably won't be spending any time playing computer games.

3. Give more than I receive.
Not the same as spend more than I earn, but to have less stuff by the end of next December.  My family and I have been given so many things by so many people over the last 12 months or so, and we've been passing stuff on, but we've still seemed to receive more than we've given and I've commented, "We can't give stuff away fast enough." This year, I aim to actively de-clutter, donate and give more than I receive. Maybe my computer game collection will be the first to have less in it...

4. Produce more than I consume.
In short, this probably means less YouTube and Facebook, and less TV, and instead, more writing, blogging, calculating and composing. This may not be not possible, (after all, we have two ears but only one mouth) but to at least strive towards a better balance.  We're all creative creatures, and I aim to spend more time creating instead of just watching TV or browsing Facebook every evening. 

Thursday, 15 December 2016

Advent 3: God With Us

Throughout the Old Testament, we see the ongoing relationship between God and the nation of Israel (God's chosen people).  We see how the Jews learn about God, as He shows Himself to them in a number of ways.

For example, they had seen "God for us":  they'd seen Him rescue them from Egypt, through a series of plagues against Pharoah and the Egyptian people.  As another example:  David, taking on Goliath, knew that God was fighting for him:  David said to the Philistine, “You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. This day the Lord will deliver you into my hands, and I’ll strike you down and cut off your head."   1 Samuel 17:45-46

The Israelites had also seen "God above us" during the 40 years of marching through the wilderness between Egypt and the Promised Land.  God led his people with a pillar of cloud by day, and a the pillar of fire by night.  They knew God was above them: "Acknowledge and take to heart this day that the Lord is God in heaven above and on the earth below. There is no other."  Deuteronomy 4:39.  

Sadly, the Israelites also knew about "God against us", when, following their unrepentant disobedience, God had to punish and discipline them.  Their cities were beseiged; the people were enslaved, or were taken into exile.

However, the promise that God gave his people through the prophet Isaiah is "God with us" - Emmanuel (Isaiah 7:14). Previously, God had worked remotely, from heaven - speaking to his people through the prophets and through signs.  This wasn't a lasting fix for the separation between God and His people - a separation caused by sin - and so God knew that the time would arrive when He'd come to be with His people:  "The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us." John 1:14

No longer just "God above us", "God for us" or "God against us", but now, God with us.  And he was named Jesus:  "She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins."  Matthew 1:21.  And the only way that God could save His people?  By coming down to Earth and being with them: Jesus is Emmanuel.

Monday, 5 December 2016

Advent 2: Names and Titles

I've been thinking recently about identities and titles - who I am and how people think of me.  For example (and this list is growing):

"Mr Leese" to the people on the phone who ring up to try and sell me stuff
"David Leese, Online Optimisation Manager for EMEA" to people who work in the same field as I do
"Lizzie's dad" (this is becoming an increasingly common one, although recently I was introduced as "Isaac's dad" for the first time)
"Naomi's husband" to Naomi's friends
"David" to my colleagues
"Dave" to my friends and family
"Dad" to my children

So I have various 'identities' or various titles depending on who's thinking about me or speaking to me.  All of them are accurate, and they all show part of who I am.  My name is David Leese; my titles are varied (and not well known).  Some people have even more titles and even longer ones.  For example, at the moment, the UK's most senior politician is "The Right Honorable Theresa May MP, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland", although I doubt her husband calls her that.
Images Credit: The Telegraph
 The US President is addressed as "Mr President" (or "Mrs President" if the president is a lady) although there has been historic debate about calling him (or her) Electoral Highness or Excellency (the idea did not catch on).  To quote the official White House website:

"The President is both the head of state and head of government of the United States of America, and Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces.  Under Article II of the Constitution, the President is responsible for the execution and enforcement of the laws created by Congress."
So, if we were to list the President's titles, you could start with these (I am sure there are more):

President of the United States;
Head of State, Head of Government;
Commander in Chief;

Responsible for execution and enforcement of law.

The President isn't called by this lengthy name plus title every time he meets somebody for the first time, nor when he's conversing with friends.  That's probably why it was decided that he should be addressed Mr President.  Currently, the name of the US President is Barack Obama; his title is extensive, and each part of his title describes what he does and what authority he has.

If you think that's a lengthy title, then an even more interesting example is Her Royal Highness Queen Elizabeth II.  Not only does she have a lengthy title as the Queen of the United Kingdom, but each country in the Commonwealth has its own title for the Queen.  The full list is here on Wikipedia, but here are two examples of titles for the same person:

Grenada (since 1972): Her Majesty Elizabeth the Second, by the Grace of God, Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and of Grenada and Her other Realms and Territories, Head of the Commonwealth.

New Zealand (since 1952):  In Māori: Kotuku; translation in English: The White Heron

Now, bearing all these names and titles in mind, it becomes easier to understand the frequently-read Christmas Bible passage in Isaiah 9, which prophesies the coming of Jesus.

"For to us a child is born, to us a son is given,and the government will be on his shoulders.  And he will be called:
Wonderful Counselor,
Mighty God,
Everlasting Father,
Prince of Peace.
Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end."  Isaiah 9:6 

['The government will be on his shoulders' means, in modern day language, that he - Jesus - will be in charge - be the head of government of literally the whole world.  The other titles are slightly easier to understand, and there's more information here.]

The titles and descriptions all refer to authority and position, and they all address one person - not by name (his name isn't exactly "Jesus Wonderful-Counselor Josephson"), but by title.  In the same way as Mr May probably calls his wife Theresa, and Barack Obama's children call him 'dad'.  Conversely, if I talk about "The Queen," then it's clear that I'm referring to Elizabeth Windsor (though I'd rarely refer to her in that way).  

On Earth, we give powerful people lengthy and meaningful titles to go after their names to address them properly, acknowledging their power and authority; Jesus (who is the Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, and so on) is no exception.

Thursday, 24 November 2016

Advent: A Trip To London

A few weeks ago, I received an email (which was sent to all UK employees) from the UK Human Resources department.  I work for a large multinational company, and it's not uncommon to get a standard email reminding employees to check their pension contributions, their benefits package for the year or whatever.  None of these usually apply to me, but this latest one did.  To paraphrase:

The UK government's immigration compliance regulations require all employers to have proof of "Right to Work" documentation for all employees.  This means that we'd like to collect up-to-date copies of this documentation for all colleagues in the UK who joined the company before April 2016.  This usually means your passport, but it could be an alternative form of ID.  We need to see the original passport (or similar), so you must present it in person to a team manager or member of the Human Resources team.  We are setting up dedicated times at each of our UK offices for you to attend the most convenient for you.

I work from home, in Stoke-on-Trent, which is over 100 miles from the nearest office, so I needed to plan a day away from my own usual 'office' and a trip to the most convenient for me.  Although it's not the closest, the London office is the easiest to get to (just 90 minutes on the train from Stoke to London Euston), so I booked the morning - and most of the afternoon - away from my desk, and made the 300+ miles round trip to London less than a week later.

Oxford Street, London, late October 2016 (my picture)

Being asked to make a compulsory journey for the benefit of central government reminded me of another journey, which many people will find very familiar:

And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed. (And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.) And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David) to be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child.  (Luke 2:1-5, King James Bible)

Now, I can't say for certain, but I'm fairly sure that the government's immigration compliance regulations are probably related to making sure they collect their tax.  So, if you think covering 100 miles or more to get registered to pay tax is a strange or unrealistic event - and only happened in the first century AD - you might want to think again.