Saturday, March 17, 2007

I'm Number 2,487,153!

Just to give you an idea of how bad a prognosticator I am, the number you see above is my national ranking in ESPN's March Madness tournament challenge. That translates into...the 15.4 percentile!!! Walk down the street...go up to a random person...ask them how they are doing with their bracket...almost every one of them is doing better than me...in many cases way, way better!!!

My goal now? Regain just a wee bit of my dignity. I just want to end up above the median. I just want to beat half the country...and, of course, get the Tar Heels out of there!!! ABC baby!!!

~Steve

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Information Technology and Public Commenting on Agency Regulations

Today is the day my latest article hits the proverbial newsstand. (Click here to access the article and click here to read the publisher's press release.) Along with a former student, Ben Daniels, I set out to get an idea of whether or not the public is likely to become more involved in government decision making in the age of the Internet. The idea is pretty simple. Websites bring agencies like the Department of Health and Human Services, Environmental Protection Agency, and Federal Communications Commission closer to us than ever. Now, with just a click of a mouse, we can access needed information and forms, as well as find out what these bureaucracies are up to in terms of regulating our lives and livelihoods. So they have built it...will we come?

This is obviously a huge question. So, to narrow it down, we picked one agency, the Department of Transportation. And we focused on one form of interaction between the agency and us, namely, public commenting on proposed regulations. You see, most of the time when government agencies propose to make changes in policy (like, say, increasing the fuel economy of SUVs), they have to allow for a public comment period (usually 60 days or so).

Back in 1998, the Department of Transportation moved its comment system on to the Internet. It used to be that you had to mail or fax your comments. Now you can submit them electronically. So has this change led more people to take advantage of this opportunity to get involved in government decision making?

Turns out the answer is "no." Ben and I looked at hundreds of regulations before and after the introduction of the online system. What we found were almost identical patterns of commenting in both periods of time. No more than 10% of the proposed regulations got more than 100 comments. Most got somewhere between 10 and 99, with a good number not receiving any at all.

The punch line? Americans' engagement with the government is probably not going to change, for better or for worse, as a result of innovations in information technology. That's the challenge we are laying down. Do we know if this conclusion holds outside of the agency and form of participation we looked at? Of course not. That's a task that now falls to future researchers. Hey, maybe I'll even do some of this research...just don't ask me to do it today!

~Steve

Monday, March 12, 2007

Always Faithful

After living in North Carolina for five years (Home of the Big 4: Duke, NC State, Wake Forest and UNC), there is no doubt that my knowledge of the orange ball exceeds common expectations. After all, in NC, babies' first words are almost never "mama" and "dada," but rather, "Boo Devilz," "Woofpak," "Deacs," and for some unfortunate offspring, "Tah-heelz." Women are required to know and love the rock at least as much as their husbands lest they spend many a weekday evening or weekend afternoon lonely.

When it comes to the NCAA Tourney, the atmosphere at the Balla house is always one of pure excitement. Maybe this is because of all the memories that have been created around the greatest sporting event of the year. Who can forget the Laettner shot against Kentucky in '92, the trip to Charlotte (and the "special hand stamp" and coup) of '94, and the crazy double trip to Durham in 2001 to watch a major comeback against the Terps and a win against Arizona for the third National Championship in Duke history (and OUR history with the Dukies!).

One less well-known memory takes me back to my days of teaching at Southern Durham High School. I'll never forget how popular the tournament was for my students. This was, of course, before the days of cellphones and text-messaging. My class begged me to let them watch the games on our classroom TV but I could not do it in good conscience. While this may not be noteworthy, the next twist definitely is...There was a boy in my class who was not normally one to get up during class but on this first day of the tournament he kept getting out of his seat and going over to the windows. I couldn't figure it out. What was the big attraction? Well, on his last trip I also meandered to the window, too, only to find him staring across the quad at the windows of a classroom one floor below. In that classroom was another boy who was writing score updates on sheets of paper and holding them up to the window so my student could see them. Obviously the teacher in that room had cracked under the pressure. It was hard not to...these kids were crazy about the games.

After getting caught up in the fray for all these years, I really understand the sentiment of the North Carolinians. We may not live there anymore but we do celebrate the tournament as they do, in royal (royal blue, that is) fashion. Starting with the picks...my winner is, and always has been, Duke (except in 1995 when they didn't make it). I will pick them again this year over Ohio State 77-72. For better or for worse, through ridicule and cheer, I'll stand by my boys looking for another set of memories. Stranger things have happened, no?

~Desi

Into the Pool

So yesterday was Selection Sunday, the day when the brackets for the NCAA men's basketball tournament are announced. It is an exciting time, one that epitomizes for me (as a fomer, mediocre NCAA athlete) the hope that anything is possible on the playing field. A nice, clean bracket sheet is pleasing both analytically (which 12 seed is going to beat a 5 this year?) and artistically (there's something beautiful and cool about all of those lines and letters). OK...maybe I'm over thinking all of this...

Of course, overthinking is what everyone does with the tournament, including the talking heads on TV. For my money, these guys were over the top last night with their criticisms of who got in and who got left out. Here's one line of argument (from the same pundit) that really drove me nuts.

The selection committee chose only 6 mid-majors for the 34 at-large bids. They didn't reward the little guy, like Drexel!

What a shame that major conference teams like Syracuse and Florida State didn't make it. These teams did everything the committee asked!


So which is it guys? Just who is it that got the raw deal? You can't have it both/all ways...

OK, so I apparently think I'm an expert...how about putting my money where my mouth is? Sure...

Early upsets (separated by more than three seeding spots): Old Dominion over Butler, Davidson over Maryland, George Washington over Vanderbilt

Final Four sleeper (seeded lower than number 3): Texas (sorry...no long-shot George Mason-types this year...the top teams are just too good)

Final Four picks: Florida, Kansas, Georgetown, Ohio State

Championship game: Florida over Ohio State, 87-81

~Steve

PS: I'm jumping into another pool this week. It's time to begin the swimming part of my triathlon training. I'm dreading this even more than the running...