hollow books and childhood spies

How to make a secret hollow book.
I tried this a half-dozen times when I was a kid, during a couple-year window when I thought I’d be a spy when I grew up. There’s a book somewhere in the kids section of the Rayne public library that’s sort of a kid’s guide to being a spy. I checked it out about 300 times. Couldn’t find it a couple of years ago when I tried hunting it down.
(It was awesome. And even vaguely transgressive, with stuff on how to hide things from your parents, how to use a mail drop on a vacant lot, etc. It sort of explains my weird interest in the products of Paladin Press around sixth grade and a later [purely theoretical] interest in phreaking. That all kind of freaked out my grandma, although not as much as when I requested The Anarchist Cookbook via interlibrary loan around eighth grade. That got me a talking-to.)

diane rehm sux

Is it just me, or has The Diane Rehm Show on NPR gotten infinitely more insufferable in the last year or so? I used to listen to it every day during my 10-minute commute to work, but now I can’t stand it. They seem to have traded in the smart people they used to interview for political hacks, blindly repeating talking points from both sides. Even the callers seem to have gotten stupider.
Then again, maybe it’s a reflection of the fact I am getting to work a little earlier these days and, instead of catching the start of the book-centric 10 o’clock hour, I’m hearing the 9 o’clock hour run out of steam.

dana carvey, who knew

Who would have thought that The Dana Carvey Show would end up being the most prodigious wellspring of contemporary comedic talent? Steve Carell, Stephen Colbert, Robert Smigel, Charlie Kaufman, and Dave Chappelle were all staff writers there. That’s a lot of talent for a show that wasn’t particularly well received.

satanism on the march

Great audio of a suburban Chicago preacher warning his flock about Satanism On The March, circa 1989. (You can tell because of the reference to the Cubs-Giants playoff series.) Man, with all the havoc these Satanists were causing, it’s just amazing nothing ever ended up getting proven in court, eh?
Wikipedia on the Satanism scare of the 1980s and moral panic more broadly.
A novel plot I give to you, for free: A mid-’80s group of kids who start faking Satanic incidents around their town to create the anti-Satanic hubbub. Until things get out of hand…

point shaving in college hoops

Proof there is point-shaving in college basketball. Well, you can decide whether it’s proof or not, but it’s a pretty strong statistical case. Basically, he found that heavy favorites (12 points or more) tend to underperform by a few points, which he reads as an indication that players are purposefully playing poorly for stretches to get the final margin under the Vegas line.
There’s an alternate theory the author doesn’t deal with. Teams that are heavily favored are also more likely to pull their starters with several minutes to go and play their (not as good) bench players. Typically (although not always), the losing team will keep its starters in a longer period of time, which would have the effect of lowering the margin of victory. In a close game, the starters would never get similarly pulled.
But that’s the rub with this sort of “forensic economics” (his term); it’s great at finding broad trends in the data but not so good at determining whether or not they apply in any individual case. It’s all macro, not micro. Which makes it perfect for the sort of pop-economics analysis that has gotten so popular these days (viz Freakonomics, Gladwell, etc.) — it’s a high-brow comfort food for yuppies. (And I don’t mean that as an insult.)
The most amazing thing in the paper for me was just how accurate the Vegas line really is. It’s designed to maximize profits for the casinos, so a perfect result would be if favorites beat the line exactly 50 percent of the time. Well, over 44,120 games studied from 1989 to the present, favorites beat the line exactly…50.01 percent of the time. Those guys in Vegas know what they’re doing.