Superstition and the safe landing of Flight 666 to HEL on Friday the 13th

Okay, so this is already a bit old (I intended to wrap this up around January 25th, and really, really let it slip), but it still deserves a short piece on it. Incidentally, I think the research I did on this one is worth the wait.

Ordinarily an airline flight is nowhere near being a newsworthy event. Planes take off and land successfully on an average of more than one per second around the world–over 100,000 flights according to this blog post by Gunner Garfors. The only times a flight is newsworthy are when one or two people wind up being the only passengers on the plane, or when a flight is affected by an incident (which need not be an outright “crash” to qualify as newsworthy).

This flight, however, made the news for an entirely different reason. It was Flight 666, which Christians regard as “the number of the beast”, destined for the airport in Helsinki, Finland, airport code HEL. And it took place this past January 13, which was Friday the 13th. Despite just about every superstition saying something would go wrong, nothing did.

Of course, that raises a lot of questions about just how seriously one should take superstitions. There aren’t that many superstitions that I have ever taken that seriously, and certainly the least of them would be 666 being the “number of the beast”. Friday the 13th has only been a truly bad day for me once out of the 72 times it has come up on the calendar since I was born (and most would say it was my own damn fault, but I won’t get into that here). When I travel, I don’t fly (the last time I got on a plane was about 10 years ago and the security procedures have gotten ridiculous), and I think Greyhound schedule numbers all have four digits (though whether they intentionally avoid any ending in or containing 666 is up for debate). Even then, I wouldn’t have any issues boarding a flight 666 even on Friday the 13th. (One of the few airline flights I took, if I remember correctly, was on a Friday the 13th, and I lived to tell about it.)

If only it were that simple. We don’t even know for sure if 666 is the real “number of the beast.” According to this Wikipedia article some early manuscripts have 616 for the “number of the beast” instead of 666. Would this make June 16 the unluckiest (or most devilish) day of the year? Should it have been flight 616 to HEL that we should have been keeping an eye on?

I did search for any record of any airline’s flight 666 or flight 616 crashing or having any type of incident, whether on Friday the 13th or not. So far I have not come up with anything. A Wikipedia article I consulted shows four flights ending in 13 having incidents; I did not check to see if this is within statistical norms but I suspect it is. Given the number of airline incidents over the years, it would be difficult to find all incidents that have ever occurred on a Friday the 13th, regardless of flight number. If there’s enough interest, I’m willing to dig deeper. If someone has already researched this, I’d love to know about it and do a followup post on the topic.

Amending the ECPA: 2017 technology versus 1986 law

From the about-damned-time department:

TechCrunch recently reported that a long-needed update to the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) has passed the House of Representatives, a good sign that the bill may actually be signed into law this year.

Unfortunately, the roadblock to passing this bill in 2016 was that the Senate wanted to water down the bill, crippling the gain in privacy that is the whole reason why the bill exists. It is only common sense, in the era of providers like Gmail offering quotas that are effectively infinite thus allowing people to keep everything, that email is just as protected from warrantless searches as any other personal electronic data.

I can’t think of a good reason why emails over 180 days old should be legally obtainable with just a subpoena instead of an actual warrant. This is one reason I have not kept emails on other servers for anything approaching the 180 days in the ECPA. (Interestingly, the other big reason is space: I currently only have emails going back to 2016 November 22 and later, and I’m at 76% quota used. As much as I get right now, I could not keep 180 days’ worth of email on the server I’m using if I wanted to.)

The ECPA is now over three decades old. Its effective date of 1986 October 21 predates widespread public access to the Internet by almost a full decade. The laws which amended it did nothing to amend the 180 day subpoena rule, which is ass-backwards and patently devoid of sense. Even if it did make sense in late 1986, the world has changed a lot in the three decades since. For example: in 1986 UUCP and FidoNet were the predominant forms of exchanging email (unless one was emailing someone on the same BBS that one was dialed into), and today, both are extinct for practical purposes with the impending death of analog telephone lines (though FidoNet still technically exists, most of its traffic now goes across the Internet). The sooner we can get a law that is tuned to the reality of living in 2017 with a connection to the Internet, the better.

Will the real amateur golfer status, please stand up?

How I missed this when it was relatively recent news is beyond me. But, better late than never. And it happens to fit in very well with the Pac Pro league post that just went up. I don’t usually write about golf, but this was too good not to pass up.

Golf Digest published this story back in 2011 October about the recent change to amateur status by the USGA (US Golf Association) and R&A (which originally stood for the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews, but which is now a separate agency responsible for just the golf rules outside of the US and Mexico). The crux of the change is that amateur golfers can enter into a relationship with a sponsor or agent in relation to their future status as a professional golfer without losing their amateur status, provided the golfer receives no financial gain while still an amateur. Quoting the article:

In a move that surprised some purists but appeared to be a nod to the current realities facing elite amateur golfers, the gameʼs two governing bodies changed Rule 2-2 of the RAS, effective Jan. 1, 2012, to allow amateurs to enter into a contract and/or an agreement with a third party—which can include a professional agent or sponsor—solely in relation to the golferʼs future as a professional, provided the golfer does not obtain any financial gain, directly or indirectly, while still an amateur. This was accompanied by a similar allowance to amateurs to sign contracts with national golf unions and associations.

And here’s where it gets hairy. Quoting the article again:

However, NCAA Bylaw 12.3, titled “Use of Agents,” states the following:

12.3.1 General Rule. An individual shall be ineligible for participation in an intercollegiate sport if he or she ever has agreed (orally or in writing) to be represented by an agent for the purpose of marketing his or her athletics ability or reputation in that sport. Further, an agency contract not specifically limited in writing to a sport or particular sports shall be deemed applicable to all sports, and the individual shall be ineligible to participate in any sport.

12.3.1.1 Representation for Future Negotiations. An individual shall be ineligible per Bylaw 12.3.1 if he or she enters into a verbal or written
agreement with an agent for representation in future professional sports negotiations that are to take place after the individual has completed his or her eligibility in that sport.

(Rough translation: “We don’t give a damn what the USGA or R&A say, our rule is: get an agent, lose your eligibility.”)

The story goes on to say that this rule change basically legitimizes what has already been happening, and puts it out of the open instead of making it a back-room, under-the-table affair. It was originally an R&A rule change, but again quoting the story:

It might not have been what USGA officials desired, but to be a good partner they went along with it.

Since this story broke (or possibly before), the USGA has prepared a chart detailing the differences. The rule change appears to still be current as of 2017 according to this chart. The chart does help in understanding exactly what the NCAA allows versus what the USGA allows, and it is interesting to note that the NCAA policy is not always the more restrictive one.

Anyway, I don’t blame the USGA for this. The story as written criticizes the USGA and R&A for relaxing the rules. I really don’t think the blame belongs on the USGA and R&A though. I would blame the NCAA for not keeping its rules up to what is currently considered amateur status by a higher authority (the USGA and/or R&A in this case). Of course, the whole reason they are so strict goes back to the reason the NCAA started the “student-athlete” classification to begin with: not wanting to pay worker’s compensation for players injured while playing college sports. This despite the multi-billion-dollar revenue total from college athletics. The schools, either with the NCAA’s help or individually, should be able to afford the medical expenses of injured players. If it’s that expensive to pay for hurt football players that bring the schools millions of dollars, maybe it’s too expensive to even have a football program to begin with.

Do college golfers get hurt often enough that they should get caught up in this awful dragnet? I would hope not. Maybe we need something like Pac Pro for golf as well. Or at the very least, some kind of an amateur golfing program aimed at college-age players separate from the schools so the NCAA can’t get their gooey fingers all over it and mess it up, and do things strictly by the USGA’s definition of amateur status.

(Note: the story may not display correctly in Firefox, for reasons I am unable to figure out.)

Too radical of a concept? Professional football for college kids

In case you missed it, USA Today recently reported on a new football league, designed for developing players less than four years removed from high school who are currently ineligible to compete in the NFL. The Pacific Pro Football League offers experience in a professional football league while not interfering with college for those who still want to go to college. Key quotes from the article:

The plan: Four teams based in Southern California, each playing an eight-game schedule on Sundays during the sports dead zone of July and August. Roughly 50 players per team making an average salary and benefits package of $50,000 a year, which they’d be free to supplement with endorsements. Rules tweaked to enhance safety and give NFL scouts matchups they want to see. Coaches with NFL experience, who would teach pro-style schemes in an immersive environment unbound by rules regarding classroom time. Any player four years or fewer removed from high school would be eligible, including college underclassmen who’d entered the NFL draft.

[…]

If players want to attend school, the summer schedule wouldn’t interfere and there’d be an option to receive one year’s tuition and books at a community college. Training would continue year-round on a similar calendar to that used in the NFL. There also would be development opportunities for coaches and officials, who could come from a program started for military veterans by another advisory board member, former NFL head of officiating Mike Pereira.

[…]

There are no plans to have traditional roster cuts, Yee said, but for some, taking the new option would mean giving up another. Any player signing a Pac Pro contract would forfeit NCAA eligibility, so the decision would need to be well-informed.

I have been a vocal but infrequent critic of the NCAA, particularly in how they handle football. I wrote a post critical of the NCAA back in 2013 April, in particular its use of the term “student-athlete” and how it came to be. I’m not going to rehash all of that here, but there does need to be at least one viable alternative to NCAA football for developing players in the 18 to 22 age bracket.

I don’t know if Pac Pro (as it’s apparently going to be referred to in short) will be the answer. But it’s encouraging to see this type of alternative being proposed. As far as I know, in the era of widespread college football, we have never had a professional league specifically designed to bridge the gap between high school football and the NFL. I certainly hope this takes off, and grows big enough to take a huge chunk out of the billion-dollar-plus college football industry.

And I do say “industry” on purpose. It shouldn’t be an industry. The college players are essentially unpaid professionals–or at best, paid only in scholarships. The idea that these kids can bring in so much money for their schools, and not only get barely any of it (a scholarship, if that) in order to retain their eligibility and “amateur” status–it’s crazy, and it turns common sense on its head.

On the NFL, the Super Bowl, and living in the host city

So, this is the second time now that Houston has hosted the Super Bowl at the same stadium (originally Reliant Stadium, now called NRG Stadium). Yes, Houston did host Super Bowl VIII at Rice Stadium back in 1974, but this was before my time.

I have been a football fan pretty much my entire life. During the five-year period from 1997 to 2001 when Houston did not have an NFL franchise, that changed a bit. For a while I even followed Arena Football, which unfortunately hasn’t remained popular, with the current incarnation having contracted to a mere five teams down from a one-time high of 19.

That said, once my favorite teams (Houston Texans and Seattle Seahawks) get eliminated from the playoffs, I usually quit caring about football for the year and will often either tune out of the Super Bowl or watch only part of it. This year I’m watching from home, mainly because it’s being played here in town. However, next year, unless the Texans or Seahawks are playing in it, I may not watch, for a variety of reasons.

One good thing about having the city you live in host the Super Bowl is a lot of things get fixed and cleaned up that otherwise nobody would really care about. Trash gets picked up off the streets, businesses clean up their exterior and possibly even fix burned-out bulbs in their signage, major streets get repainted months ahead of schedule, burned out streetlights get fixed. This year, it also appears the Super Bowl was the impetus for the completion of the Green Line overpass connecting the final two stations (Cezar Chavez/67th Street and Magnolia Park Transit Center).

Of course there is a flip side to this too where laws are used in unintended ways. While I haven’t heard much about the city (particularly the police department) mistreating the homeless in advance of the Super Bowl, I’m sure it has happened. It’s implausible that the Super Bowl coming up in less than two months and HPD deciding to enforce the homeless feeding ban more aggressively than usual was just a mere coincidence.

While we do get an economic influx, there’s also the extra traffic from everybody coming to town for the game and/or other related festivities. On a personal note, this was part of the reason I cancelled my planned attendance of the 2600 meeting at The Galleria on Friday; it was questionable if I would have attended even if potentially thicker-than-usual crowds were not a factor. I was at The Galleria on Wednesday, and the crowds weren’t terrible then, but who knows how bad it was on Friday night? (If you were there, feel free to comment.) Also, I see many friends on Facebook who can’t wait for the city to “get back to normal.” I don’t blame them.

I don’t mean to throw rain on your parade if you’re a diehard football fan and only care that it’s the NFL and there’s 11 guys on each side of the ball running into each other in the closest thing the USA has to ancient Roman gladiatorial combat. If you enjoy the game no matter who’s playing, that’s great. But some don’t, and some like myself lose interest if the teams are unfamiliar. And honestly, normal life can be chaotic enough without a wildly popular football game and the associated crowds coming to town.