Recommendations, 10/11

This week we’re into books about football players, narcissistic twitter bots, and whatever we can squeeze in during nap time.

Darryl

In the last few years, pro football has changed from purely a spectator sport to one where it’s become fashionable to care about the lives of the people who play it. Sure, the sports media world will always have plenty of tidy narratives that involve the star players (what round of the draft was he picked in? what childhood adversities did he overcome?). But now people talk about the untidy, the un-pre-packaged, and the unpleasant, with some regularity and even more seriousness. And when a memoir of a journeyman football player with an unremarkable career lands in bookstores, well, you know that the pendulum has swung far away from the traditional.

Thus Nate Jackson’s Slow Getting Up: A Story of NFL Survival from the Bottom of the Pile. Jackson was, for those people who don’t remember him (which is most of us), a former wide receiver turned tight end who spent the peak of his career with the Denver Broncos. By peak, I mean that he doesn’t become a starter until halfway through the book, doesn’t score his first touchdown until about two-thirds of the way in. So Jackson’s big contribution is the peek behind the curtain of the NFL — the training camp, the constant threat of injury, the attenuated version of human interaction that the majority of pro football players experience.

Despite all of that — the risk of injury, the broken relationships, the dull stretches of time outside of practices and games–Jackson would still have signed up for the NFL, would not have opted out of the career that shredded his muscles and quite possible damaged his brain as well. On the surface, this book is a juicy expose of how the average NFL player lives; but for me, the real wonder of this book is how Jackson reconciles all the forces, internal and external, that tried to get him to stop playing with the decision to just play one more down.

Jonathan

These days I am spending a lot of time with a three-month old boy. In other words, I have white, crusty spittle on my cardigan and I haven’t slept much. While he is taking a nap his plastic, vibrating chair, here are a few recommendations / impressions of my last two weeks of media consumption:

  • I’m not really jazzed about any of the new fall network TV shows, although I have watched all three episodes of the show with James Spader acting all goofily serious and smugly bald.
  • I read Piers Anthony’s first Xanth novel, A Spell for Chameleon. I’m not sure why Heinlein’s sexism (for instance) doesn’t bother me but Anthony’s is so cloyingly juvenile that it actually ruins the book.
  • One recent article I have both read and retained ideas / information from was Paul Ford’s piece on frozen embryos in Elle magazine.
  • Haim? Meh. Chvrches? OK!
  • Netflix on Roku recently added a “random” section which is my new favorite place to find stuff to watch. What does it mean to be tired of one’s own algorithm?
  • Snail combat at the British Library.
  • Akira Kurosawa’s final movie, Madadayo, is beautiful, bittersweet, and completely non-essential.

Kevin

For a while, I was over Twitter bots. @Horse_ebooks was a delight when it was definitely a bot. (I don’t know why anyone is surprised that it has been run by humans for the past two years; Adrian Chen insinuated as much in his Gawker piece about it.) But when you really think about it, @Horse_ebooks was the Twitter equivalent of Magnetic Poetry: from a mess of words, maybe you would find something weirdly poetic.

@tofu_product elevates the Twitter bot to a whole new level. Created by Joe Toscano, @tofo_product attempts to reply to you in its best imitation of your voice, based on your past tweets. It’s nonsensical, but scarily accurate. For example, this killed me:

No, wait, there’s more:

And this is the ultimate Kevin robot tweet.

Okay, so maybe these things are only funny to me. But @tofu_product will be funny exclusively to you. In its inanity, the bot reveals just how ridiculous the amalgamation of our tweets are. Which is to say, how ridiculous we are.

@tofu_product doesn’t attempt to cross the Uncanny Valley. Quite the opposite actually: instead of a robot being unrecognizable from a human, @tofu_product might be evidence of how robotic human beings can be.

Other notable bots: @robotuaries and @exosaurs

Nick

I consume enough media about the NBA that it all begins to blur together. I know a lot about the upcoming season, but I probably couldn’t tell you where any one factoid about it came from. That’s why Kirk Goldsberry’s “Extra Points” stands out so much to me; years from now I’ll still remember it vividly. It’s an extraordinary piece of sports analysis.

Goldsberry poses the question of who’s the best shooter in the NBA. Intuitively, NBA fans know the answer (Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant are good bets), but no statistic backs up this assertion. Current stats reward players who take easy shots, which says something for their efficiency, but little for their shooting prowess.

To fix this problem, Goldsberry did what any of us would do: he made a new stat. His ShotScore measures how far from average a player’s shooting percentage is from each spot on the court. Basically, it creates a map of a player’s offensive game. These numbers, and the charts that go with them, reveal so much in an incredibly succinct way. Basketball is a complex game, and Goldsberry’s article and data are both among the purest distillations of it I’ve ever seen. I just wish it didn’t show that my favorite player, Russell Westbrook, shoots terribly from everywhere.