RIP Jim Brown

Jim Brown, former Cleveland Browns football player, activist, actor, and mixed martial arts commentator, has just passed away. RIP to a football legend. Calling him the greatest running back of all time is not particularly controversial, unlike other such claims. He rushed for more yards per game than anyone else at his position and did so in a low-offense era.

Betting on Obscure Sports

I’ve said multiple times that the depths to which sportsbooks scraped the bottom of the barrel in the spring of 2020 was darkly amusing and inspiring at the same time. The thing is, they were doing this before the crunch. And after. Maybe not to the extent of splashing Taiwanese women’s basketball on their front pages, but you still could and can find really weird sports. And the use of obscure sports is a glaring weak point for integrity.

So who actually bets on the Laotian 2nd Floorball League?

Well, from what I’ve gathered, there’s three main categories of bettors. Only one of these is beneficial to the sportsbook, and is probably the reason they keep doing it. None are what would be considered beneficial to society or even the sports betting ecosystem as a whole.


The most innocent group of people to bet on obscure markets consistently (as opposed to the occasional novelty bet that no one expects anything out of) are “degenerates”, the same gambling addicts who will just bet on whatever’s in front of their faces. If it’s the middle of the night and some soccer league halfway around the world is what’s on the screen, they’ll bet it. Everything from table tennis to bizarre half-rink hockey to totally legitimate Indian cricket. This was in fact the reason for those Eastern European ping pong leagues running around the clock and existing at all-it was to ensure that there was something on screen at all times, purely for the purposes of gambling.

Something that greases the skids for a huge and inevitable problem with gambling doesn’t seem like the best thing. But it’s sweet and virtuous compared to the other two.

Line Munchkins

Many of the sharp/plus EV [Expected value] bettors are these, pouncing on whatever mismatch they get. They have little to no handicapping or serious modeling ability (the stereotype is that they’re green lumberjacks who don’t even know the players). After all, obscure sports are the most vulnerable to bad/slow lines. Which of course leads to the cycle of them getting restricted/banned after the book finds out.

I find neither the sportsbooks themselves who blast ads about the road to riches yet restrict successful bettors nor the line munchkins (coming from a tabletop RPG term for players who crudely optimize for maximum power) who act like martyrs to genius instead of people who gamed the system to be very sympathetic. So something that amplifies this sludgy mess does not seem desirable.


The smallest, weakest, and most obscure sports are the most vulnerable to manipulation and fixes. So naturally either fixers or people aware of the fix will flock to bet on these crooked games. I don’t think I need to really explain why this is a bad thing.

What Next?

On one hand, the sportsbooks can simply not list the Guinea-Bissau Ferret Legging Third Division, the regulators can forbid it, and the data providers (the biggest, most important, and least visible part of the whole ecosystem), can not provide information about them. On the other, it only takes one offshore data provider and an offshore book wanting to fill that niche to break the restrictions.

So yes, like a lot of sports betting issues, this is not completely solvable. I do think that forbidding bets on the lowest hanging fruit-minor league baseball and tennis or low-division college basketball to use an American example, would still be a wise and prudent thing to do.

AI Art and Wargaming

So I’ve fallen to the dark side and have begun making prompt-generated pieces of AI art. This is a very controversial subject with a lot of undeniably talented artists who I respect being furious about it, and understandably so. If I had to sum up my opinion on the controversy (beyond specific technical issues like how to treat stuff like training images for the sake of copyright and licensing), it’d be condensed to this:

  • AI art is here and isn’t going away. It also has undeniable advantages as well as issues. The economic concerns of traditional artists are real.
  • Many AI artists have done their medium no favors by just spamming out low-effort prompts and/or deliberately copying obscure internet artist styles, either by model-making or just plain image-to-image.
  • The backlash, while understandable, is a Canute-ian endeavor (sorry, had to be a little pretentious). The same thing was said about Photoshop and similar tools. And online self-publishing. And recorded music. And photography. And pipe organs (seriously-the 17th century equivalent of “tech-bros” was applied to the stereotype of organ players back then). Like when free agency became a thing in sports, you have to learn to understand it and see if you can use it to your advantage.
  • There’s more to good AI art than just typing in “anime girl trending on artstation”, even if a lot of people only see that (see point 2 above)

But as a hobby, since I can write much better than I can draw, AI prompt tools have let me explore visual media in a delightful way. Yet what struck me when I really started getting into was how natural it seemed to me. And then it occurred to me: I’d done something similar before. Many, many times before. In wargames and simulators like Command, Nuclear War Simulator, Title Bout Boxing, and WMMA, I’d enjoyed simply creating a situation, allowing the RNG to add the needed element of chance to it, and then witnessing the result. And yes, frequently getting inspired by the result.

AI prompt tools allow me to do something similar with art and pictures. Yes, it can be an end. But a casualty list after a wargame scenario or results screen after a sports simulation can also be the beginning of a very human story.

As for AI writing, which is a thing, I’m strangely unfazed by it. I’m an artisanal sculptor, so seeing the metal casting factory rev up means little to my specific work. If that makes sense. Also, I’ve had the warped perspective of reading so many bad and mediocre books that I’m sincerely convinced that a computer can’t really do much worse.

A Thousand Words: Power Slap

Power Slap

A show devoted to a “sport” that is as bizarre as it is dangerous, Power Slap is the brainchild of Ultimate Fighting Championship head Dana White. While White is no ones idea of an ethical person, but this is a low even for him. You might think that slapfighting is some silly, wimpy gimmick. That would be wrong. Expect maybe the silly part. You might also think that slapfighting is some kind of boxing but with open hands. That would be extra-wrong.

Slapfighting goes like this: The combatants stand on either side of a short table. Starting with the winner of a coin flip, they take turns being the attacker and victim. The attacker does an open-hand powerful slap. The victim…. holds their hands behind their back, and it’s a foul if they so much as flinch slightly.

Yes, this is a sport that literally forbids any kind of defense. There’s a reason why even people active in boxing and mixed martial arts have been scorching this for its danger. More than one commentator has argued, and I agree, that it feels like a way to prove the detractors of early MMA right. It’s nothing but hitting until one person falls down (or the round ends).

I love mixed martial arts. But this is an offshoot I do not. It feels like trying to skip straight to the highlight reel knockouts without grasping that the reason why those knockouts are so impressive is that they’re earned in a way that hitting a literally defenseless opponent is not. Or maybe it’s just Dana White being weird. Wouldn’t be the first time him or another promoter acted that way.

A Thousand Words: Electric Football

Electric Football

As Christmas approaches, it’s important to acknowledge a rite of passage every American child has faced. Getting an electric football set and only using it once. I remember getting an electric football set, thinking the players were actually programmable (ha!), watching them shake downfield once after turning the game on, and never touching it again.

The creation of Norman Sas and Tudor Games shortly after WWII, electric football involves a vibrating board to move its players. When the NFL expanded massively in popularity, electric football gained the official license, becoming the Madden of its day. If Madden was programmed in two days by people who couldn’t make the cut at Game Freak or Bethesda.

Now electric football is both technically improved and far less popular because, you know, video games exist. But it was and still is a thing.

College Coaches Fail In The Pros

College football coaches have a track record of failing in the NFL, with Urban Meyer being the most recent predictable casualty. The interesting question is “why”? The most stated answer is simple: Because the player-coach power dynamics are completely different.

In college, the coach is the centerpiece of the team, his players are short-term by the very nature of college, and he’s the one who gets the megadeal. In the pros, the players are the centerpiece of the team, most coaches are expendable and expected to be tossed aside at the slightest failure, and the players know it. Free agency and bigger player contracts have not exactly swung things in favor of the coaches, but as the tale of Lou Holtz and the Jets shows, the same dynamic existed long before 1993.

The other issue is that the gap between the best and worst pro players is a lot smaller than the gap between the best and worst Division 1 college players. There’s no “coasting through a week against the paid tomato can”, as the point spreads show. The biggest NFL point spread of all time was only 28 points for the Broncos against the Jaguars in 2013, and it was not covered by the favorite. Meanwhile seemingly every Week 1 (and many subsequent ones) power program game is so lopsided that most sportsbooks don’t even bother with moneyline (straight win-loss) options at all.

Review: Little Girls In Pretty Boxes

Little Girls In Pretty Boxes

Joan Ryan’s gut-wrenching nonfiction book Little Girls in Pretty Boxes is a beautifully written book about a hideously ugly topic. That is gymnastics, one of the most horrifying and least cost-effective sports ever. One horror story after another comes out of it. Fatal crashes, eating disorders, and girls forced into horrendous discipline and generally ruined by something that almost all of them see absolutely no benefit from. The aging curve is so ridiculously steep that at 24 , Simone Biles was considered the equivalent of athletes with freakish longevity like Jamie Moyer or Frank Gore.

Ryan’s only “problem” is that she’s so good at telling something where stage parents leave their daughters in the hands of a Ceausescu-vintage slave driver (and, with recent revelations after the book’s publication, someone far, far, worse). Most sports involve the participants getting bigger and stronger. Gymnastics forces them to stay small and underdeveloped. There’s been understandable talk of banning American Football, but Ryan makes a much better case for gymnastics.

It’s a good book about a bad sport.

Review: Pros and Cons

Pros and Cons: The Criminals Who Play in the NFL

Jeff Benedict and Don Yaeger’s Pros and Cons is a 1999 book about the massive instances of NFL players who had criminal records. These players were not just chosen in the draft in spite of their criminal backgrounds, but were often shielded by their teams to great extents. So far, that does not sound surprising, being just a few years removed from the OJ Simpson trial. But they deliberately avoid talking about the obvious “superstar power” and instead focus near-entirely on how the teams twist to protect criminal players who are not stars by any definition of the term.

It’s well-researched and has many harrowing examples. But it comes across as flawed for two big reasons. The first is that it ultimately feels sensationalist for the sake of sensationalism. This is of course a massive inherent issue for true crime books like it. But it seems to go further in that it assumes its readers are holding to a hopelessly outdated “Gee whiz, look at that Mickey Mantle, so nice and clean” mindset that I can assure you was not present even in children at the time of the book’s release (I know this because I was one at the time. I can tell you that I knew more about Dennis Rodman’s off-court antics than about what made him good on it).

Which leads to the second not-its-fault problem. This is like a book on unrestrained warfare-released in 1913. The internet was a paradigm shift in how these inevitable incidents were processed and viewed, and arriving just before it really broke out massively makes it horrendously dated.

I can’t really recommend this book. It’s a dated true crime book that’s basically redundant by this point.

Review: The Wandering Warriors

The Wandering Warriors

Rick Wilder and Alan Smale’s The Wandering Warriors is a very goofy novel. In it, a 1940s baseball team finds itself isekaied to Ancient Rome. Hijinks ensue. Lots of hijinks. Ok, lots and lots of hijinks.

This silly book has a silly premise and a silly conclusion. But it’s a lot of fun. Don’t read it expecting any kind of historical accuracy, serious study or culture clash. Read it for the ridiculous fun of a baseball team teaching Romans to play baseball in the Colosseum.

If you like out-there time travel fantasy, this is the book for you.