NBA All-Star Game at Madison Square Garden, 2022: Worth Weighting For

All-Star Game, 2022:

1st Quarter: Lightweight

West: Curry, Lillard, McCollum, Morant, Mitchell, Chris Paul, Jamal Murray, Shai GA

East: Kyrie Irving , Bradley Beal, Jrue Holiday, Trae Young, Van Vleet, Lowry, Sexton, Brogdon

2nd Quarter: Middleweight

West: Doncic, Kawhi, Paul George, Klay, Booker, Derozan, Draymond, Lonzo

East: Harden, Butler, Brown, Tatum, Middleton, Lavine, Hayward, Lamelo

3rd Quarter: Heavyweight:

West: Lebron, Davis, Jokic, Zion, Gobert, Towns, Ayton, Ingram

East: Simmons, Durant, Giannis, Sabonis, Embiid, Adebayo, Vucevic, Randle

4th Quarter: Crunch Time

West: Curry, Doncic, Lebron, Davis, Jokic, Lillard, Kawhi, Zion
East: Harden, Giannis, Durant, Embiid, Butler, Kyrie, Tatum, Simmons


Tesla’s Stone of Triumph

Tesla’s stock price rose sevenfold in 2020, a year many people stopped driving. It is now the fifth highest valued American company and by far the world’s highest valued car company.  

Whether or not this market valuation is warranted, Tesla’s cars have a snag: their battery packs weigh ~1200 pounds. That’s a lot of weight that each Tesla Model S has to carry around. By way of comparison, an entire Renault Twizy electric car weighs 1000 pounds, including a 200-pound battery.  

                                                                Renault Twizy  

All this extra weight may not limit Tesla’s business success, any more than the waste associated with other sellers of convenience and speed, like Amazon, have limited theirs. But it will guarantee that cars like Tesla’s do not come anywhere close to maximizing economic or environmental efficiency. 

The Wuling Hongguang Mini EV recently overtook the Tesla Model 3 to become the best-selling electric car in China at the end of 2020. It weighs about 1500 lbs., compared to about 3500-4000 lbs. for the Tesla 3. It has a top speed of about 100 km/h and an estimated range of 170 km, seats 4 passengers, and costs about $4500.

Tesla vs. Economy class
Electrifying transportation in an economic way is not rocketX science. There are a few simple ways to go about it:

These options all share the advantage of not having to lug heavy batteries around. Not only does this make them a lot more energy-efficient (particularly in trucking; the battery pack of a Tesla Semi weighs an estimated 26,000 pounds), but it also saves large amounts of energy and other resources needed to produce large batteries, and avoids the later challenge of battery disposal. (A similar, less frequently discussed problem exists with regard to the energy needed to produce the many computer chips that semi-autonomous cars like Tesla’s require). In the case of electric railways or trolleybuses, not requiring battery-charging stations can also help to save money, time, and avoid the environmental problems associated with “fast”-charging. Plus, railways are simply more energy-efficient than automobiles. And for e-bike batteries, which tend to weigh only 5-10 pounds, or for the smallest electric car batteries, battery-swapping stations might become viable, something unlikely to happen on a significant scale for car batteries that weigh over a thousand pounds.  

Much of the confusion here comes from pursuing only electrification, rather than electrification and economization. While it is often pointed out that most electricity in the US is still generated from fossil fuels, or that even renewable sources of electricity can be problematic in various ways, what is almost never discussed is that even were 100% of US electricity to be renewable and non-problematic, driving electric cars like Tesla’s would still carry significant environmental opportunity costs simply because the rest of the world still generates most of its electricity from coal. America is not an island*: building and charging tens of millions of bulky car batteries means less power available for use elsewhere in the economy, and therefore possibly a greater reliance on imports from other fossilier countries, or fewer fossil-free exports to other countries. Ditto for social justice: spending needless trillions on cars means less money for investment in people.    

*A Canadian digression: actually, the US economy is like an island to a certain degree, at least compared to most other, smaller countries. But what is especially annoying is that the same arguments used to promote Tesla-style cars are also found in countries like Canada. Since Canada’s electricity already is almost all non-fossil-fuel based (hydroelectric and nuclear) and cheap (especially in hydro-rich Quebec, BC, and Manitoba), the argument heard in Canadian media is that all we have to do is get that last little bit up to 100% “renewable”, and then we can enjoy buying EVs. This, of course, ignores the massive opportunity cost coming from the fact that the rest of the North American economy still gets most its power from coal and gas. We may have a responsibility to economize the use of our clean and cheap power in order to help other parts of continent wean themselves off coal – especially as some of the pollution from that coal directly reaches our air and water. Maybe I have not been paying close enough attention, but I have never once heard or read this Econ-101 line of thinking in Canadian media. At best it is only implied, for example in the newly popular argument that we need to pivot from exporting oil to exporting more electricity to the US following the cancellation of the Keystone XL pipeline by President Biden.

Battle of the Sedan
Similar challenges exist for conventional electric cars with regard to concerns like traffic jams, passenger and pedestrian safety, and ease of use for elderly people, people with disabilities, etc. Many Tesla supporters claim that autonomous driving will eventually solve each of these issues. That may or may not be true (or, to put it another way, it’s very probably not true) but even if it were true, it still ignores the pesky reality of opportunity costs, which force one to ask not merely “how might this improve things?” but also “how far from perfect would this still be?”

A future built around autonomous electric cars would still create more road traffic (even if they were able to travel in Musk’s underground tunnels) and require far more resources than would a future built around electric rail, lightweight electric vehicles, and wired electric buses and trucks. And that is without even counting the biggest opportunity cost of all: delay. Even if we get to a future of safe and fast electric autonomous driving by, say, 2030 or 2040, that still leaves a decade or two of lost life-years and injuries from car accidents, wasted time and stress in traffic jams, and other forms of loss, which could all be reduced much sooner than 2030 if we act intelligently.

This vision of the future also begs a further question: if cars are going to be driving themselves while we relax, then why do we even need them to have the top speed of a sports car? Where exactly are we rushing to in that automated world? And if we really are still in such a rush, why not simply have them drop us off at the nearest train station? Trains, unlike cars, can travel at high speeds without wasting too much energy.

Of course, a counter-argument to all this it that people actually want the type of cars that Tesla makes. And Tesla’s cars are still better than the internal combustion engine status quo, so why make the perfect the enemy of the good? Well, sure, that is an argument that can plausibly be made. But it’s not exactly the Tesla ethos, is it? I’ve never heard anybody say “hey, have you seen my new Tesla? It’s relatively decent. That Elon Musk is a real evolutionary”.

Many Tesla supporters still believe the company will change the world. With a market capitalization of 794 billion dollars, it could actually do so now. A good place to start would be no longer making cars with batteries as heavy as full-grown cattle.  


His Dark Adaptations

Like any YA-novel heroine worth the name, Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials series has repeatedly been tasked with filling the shoes of bigger heroes in order to save the world – scratch that: worlds – from peril. First came the world of bookselling, as Pullman’s novels were used to fill the lulls between releases of the Harry Potter books and, eventually, help bookstores in their attempts to stave off Amazon.com, which entered the book-selling business the same week The Golden Compass was published in July 1995. Then came the world of film, when New Line was looking for its next big hit after The Lord of the Rings wrapped in 2003, and so gave The Golden Compass the biggest budget in its history (which was still ≈70 million less than what Amazon later paid for just the rights to LOTR’s backstory). Finally, in 2019, began the finale of this trilogy: the Great Streaming Wars. HBO, in trying to ward off spectres like Amazon, partnered with the BBC to adapt Pullman for TV, part of its search for new materials to follow up Game of Thrones.

Matching the success of the Harry Potter books, Lord of the Rings films, and Game of Thrones show would have been daunting enough even if His Dark Materials was a comparable product. But, although perhaps equivalent in terms of quality, it does not possess the immense quantity of those other series. The full His Dark Materials series clocks in at 390,000 words, compared to more than half a million for Lord of the Rings, over a million for Harry Potter, and soon-to-be two million for Thrones. Pullman’s first two books combined are shorter than the shortest of George RR Martin’s – the book off of which GOT’s Season 1 was based. In trying to create a similar hit, HBO had to stretch the material in His Dark Materials dangerously, even hobbitishly thin:

*The stats for the Harry Potter films and for the Peter Jackson Middle Earth movies were taken from the blog Overthinking It.  For the GOT show, only the first 2 seasons are shown here – after season 2 the book/tv timelines no longer overlap neatly at all. The 1978 LOTR movie was an adaptation of the first 1.5 books of LOTR.

Pullman’s brevity might have actually been an advantage in terms of making a film adaptation without having to cut key scenes or characters, as the Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings movies and later seasons of Game of Thrones all had to do. The Golden Compass movie, however, was forced to carry out this same type of cinematic intercision anyway, only for completely different reasons.

Fearing that advocacy groups like the Catholic League, and also the Vatican, would suppress the film’s ticket sales, New Line decided to cut any scenes that might broadly offend the Catholic Church. This was way back in the 2000s, a time when even the inoffensive and pro-Christian Harry Potter was still criticized from certain religious corners as being too pro-witchcraft, Baruch and Balthamos couldn’t yet have legally married even in Los Angeles, and New Line itself had just produced a prequel of Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ the year before releasing Compass. So, it was no surprise that there would be serious pushback against a series of children’s books in which (spoiler alert) sexual awakening between young teenagers is the fruit of original sin and can save the world, and the heroine of the entire story is, in effect, the antichrist.

But New Line’s decision meant bungling the adaptation, despite an excellent casting job that included Nicole Kidman, Daniel Craig, Sam Elliot, and Derek Jacobi. The movie was forced to remove the entirety of the book’s final chapters, including the book’s devastating climax which mingles and twists a number of Genesis myths (the tempting of Eve, binding of Isaac, and ladder of Jacob). The result was akin to ending Empire Strikes Back before the Luke, I am Your Father scene.

An essay in The Atlantic in 2007, How Hollywood Saved God, describes how this came to pass:

…[Director Chris] Weitz told me he tried to keep in a line where Asriel says, “Dust is sin,” but “that didn’t make it. What can I say?” Hollywood “is just terrified that anything that brings up religion or anything controversial will be disastrous.” But after three years of working on the movie, he’d come up with a solid explanation for why he’s not selling out: In the ’80s and ’90s, Hollywood was “scornful in a very intellectually unsound way about religion. Any priest or nun was a dogmatic idiot. So I think there’s something valid in the way the Christian community has responded.” There will be some religious imagery in the movie, Weitz said, but it will be blended so unobtrusively into the production design that it will take a “DVD player and working knowledge of Latin to decipher the symbols.”

SPECTRE: Lord Asriel Will Return in “Quantum of Soulless”

That was then. Thirteen impressively sacrilegious years later, the idea that entertainment should have to bend the knee to the likes of Bill Donohue and the Catholic League seems quaint. And so, HBO, in partnership with the BBC, had the chance to adapt things faithfully – that is, without faith getting in the way – this time. Yet the pressure to replicate Game of Thrones’ success may have been too strong, forcing producers towards the opposite extreme instead. Whereas the 2007 adaptation had a runtime of 1 hr 45 minutes, for a book that probably needed 2 or 3 hours to do justice to – maybe 4, at a stretch – the 2019 version expanded the story into 7 and a half hours of TV.

The result of this was a too-drawn-out storytelling pace, and so much new material being written for side characters that Lyra, whose point of view dominates the book, is off-screen for much of the show. The show also had to move key parts of the story forward from the second book into the first season, and then from the third book to the second, in the process diluting the power of both books’ revelatory final chapters. (This book-shuffling also spoiled perhaps the best minor twist in the books, but in that case there was the silver lining of getting to watch more of Ariyon Bakare). The need to fill the extended runtime also led to quite a lot of thematic exposition, with characters discussing philosophical aspects of the narrative which might otherwise have unfolded gradually. All of this undermined what, in the books, is one of the series’ most coveted qualities: subtlety.

There is another even deeper danger lurking, which could be glimpsed in the very first scene of Materials’ first season: spinoff creep. Rather than begin with the books’ iconic decanter of tokay opening scene, the show instead starts with events pulled from Pullman’s The Book of Dust, the prequel/sequel trilogy Pullman began publishing in 2017 and is currently still writing the finale of. Obviously — as can also be seen in HBO’s move to set a handful of new shows in Westeros — there is pressure on producers to engage in extended world-building in order to compete with the megadeals that have landed Amazon Middle Earth, Netflix Narnia, and Disney galaxies near and far.

Killing Eve: the sinister Magisterium seeks to pre-empt original sin in the second season of His Dark Materials

(As an example of just how crowded this competition is, His Dark Materials was not even the only beloved ‘90s fantasy book with the antichrist as its hero to debut on streaming services in 2019. There was also Amazon Studio’s adaptation of the Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman novel Good Omens. Like Materials, it too was co-produced with the BBC and featured a star-studded cast. It too may return for a second and third season, despite having been adapted from a single book).

In the end, the attempts to adapt and market Pullman’s fantasy series may serve to illustrate how, like a teenager’s daemon, the more things change the more they stay the same. Books become movies, which later beget television shows. Standalones become trilogies and then grow into cinematic multiverses. Popes and Catholic Leagues wax and wane; Hollywood’s religious mores can swing like the needle of a compass. But throughout all of these transformations, film and television studios can always be relied upon to try to duplicate their past hits. They worship a different God, and fear different devils, than the ones who will do battle at the end of His Dark Materials.


The Shootout Problem’s Simple Solution:

The NHL is back, thank god. But so is the shootout.

There is a problem with the shootout: it’s anticlimactic, especially after the exciting 3-on-3 OT that precedes it. And it does not resemble the sport of hockey enough to warrant the significant impact over the league standings that it often has.

Most hockey fans want the shootout to be replaced by more sudden death OT, especially since 3-on-3 hockey tends not to go on for too long before a goal is scored anyway. The problem is, the stars who have to play the most in those OT periods are understandably wary of extending their duration and further increasing their intensity.

The solution is simple: for the 2nd OT period, do not let any players from the 1st OT play. And in the 3rd OT period, don’t let any players from the 1st or 2nd OTs play.

If the game is still not over after these 15 minutes of 3-on-3 hockey, then you can either have a shootout (shootouts will actually become exciting again, by virtue of being rare!), or else go on to a 4th OT period in which the 1st-OT players can play again (just like how, in a shootout, a player can go for a second turn once everyone else on his team has taken a turn themselves).

So, NHL, make this change. And make it now. It’s a hell of a lot less radical then breaking your league into Canadian and American halves, after all…


On Big Z

Even in the most congenial divorce, the division of assets can hurt. When the Czechoslovakian men’s hockey team split after the country’s Velvet divorce in 1993, it was the Czech who ended up with most of the family fortune. With stars like Jaromir Jagr (second only to Gretzky in NHL career scoring) and Dominik Hasek (arguably the best goalie ever), the Czech would go on to win the gold at the 1998 Olympics, something that even the unified Czechoslovakian team had never been able to accomplish. 

Slovakia, however, still managed to keep the house: Zdeno Chara. 

Chara was already 16 years old when the country split. He was just about to begin his hockey career playing for his hometown team in Trenčín, a small city five miles from the newly established Czech border. Unlike his father, Zdenek Chara, who had been an Olympic champion in Graeco-Roman wrestling, Zdeno Chara never got to represent Czechoslovakia in international competition. He did, however, inherit his father’s Olympian physique: At 6”9 (7 ft. on skates), weighing 250 pounds, Chara has long been the largest player in the NHL, dominating defensive zones for 21 seasons since 1998. Though he has only won one James Norris award for Best Defenseman—Nik Lindstrom often stood in his way, winning seven, leaving Chara with five runner-ups—he remains the perpetual winner of the Chuck Norris award for deadliest man with a blade.  

As of today, Chara is the only European player, other than that same Nik Lindstrom, to captain a Stanley Cup-winning team, having led the Boston Bruins to end a nearly four-decades-long Cup drought in 2011. Chara has been the Bruins captain for 14 years, during which time they have made it to the playoffs 11 times, and to the Cup finals three times. He would easily be the franchise’s greatest defenseman, except that, this being the Bruins, Chara will always rank far behind Ray Bourque and Bobby Orr. Nor is Chara even the greatest 43-year-old athlete in recent Boston memory — that honor goes to Tom Brady of course, six months Chara’s junior. Like Brady, Chara is finally leaving New England this season, but not yet retiring. He signed with the Washington Capitals last week, where he will join Alexander Ovechkin as both seek to drink from a second Cup. 

Much attention has gone to Chara’s flashier records, such as the speed of his slap shot (108.8 miles per hour, the NHL’s fastest), his size (the league average is 6”1, 199 lbs), his career plus-minus (the highest plus of any current player), or the fact that he played one of the longest ever shifts (4 min and 18 seconds) when he was already 40 years old. It is easier though to overlook the most impressive record Chara is building, because the NHL has not historically kept track of ice time played over the course of a career. The league keeps track of average ice time per game, a stat Chara has led the league in during past years, and even led the Bruins in last year at 42 years old. But look a bit deeper and you can see Chara is racking up an almost Lebron-esque resume for total minutes played, across regular seasons and playoffs. 

With 21 full seasons thus far, 15 playoff runs, 3 finals runs, and almost no time lost to injuries, Chara is the leader in both regular season and playoff minutes played, and shows little sign of slowing down just yet. He has racked up far more ice time than the player with the second most career minutes, iron man Patrick Marleau (who, at age 41, takes ice baths to reenergize himself during every intermission between second and third periods). By the end of this season Chara will become the fourth oldest skater ever to play in the NHL, passing hockey legends Teemu Selanne, Tim Horton, and Doug Harvey. That will leave Chara chasing only Jagr (who retired last year at 46 years old, and still plays pro hockey back in the Czech league), Chris Chelios (48 years old, retired in 2010), and the great Gordie Howe (52 years old!). Howe actually pulled off what Lebron hopes to do one day, ending his career playing alongside his son

This brings us to Chara’s other Lebron-ish attribute: making his teammates, and specifically his goaltenders, look amazing. Admittedly some of this may be coincidence; trying to measure an individual player’s impact in a sport like hockey can be a somewhat fuzzy pursuit.  But it is probably not a complete coincidence that Chara’s teammates in Boston have won the Vezina award for Best Goalie three times — Tim Thomas twice and Tukka Rask (who was also Vezina runner-up this past season) once. Both goalies have had exceptional seasons with the Bruins: Thomas had a season with the 2nd best save percentage in modern NHL history, and Rask a season with the 8th best. (Dominik Hasek, who had the 3rd best save percentage season, also played with Chara for a year in Ottawa, and played well, but he had already won 6 Vezinas and 2 MVPs by that point in his career, without Chara). Chara’s long reach and ability to remove opponents from the front of the net have made him particularly useful at limiting goals during penalty kills, at which the Bruins have usually excelled.  

I say all of this with a respect that is truly grudging. Chara’s shadow has loomed over my hometown team, the Toronto Maple Leafs, for two decades now. The Leafs have faced Chara in 6 out of their past 7 playoff berths, going back all the way to 2001 when Chara was still playing for Toronto’s provincial rival the Ottawa Senators. On the Bruins, the Leafs have faced Chara in three Game 7s — and are 0-3 against him. That record includes this Bruins comeback in 2013, one of the more devastating losses in Leaf history. Watch as Chara helps Boston score consecutive goals with the Bruins’ own net empty with about a minute left in the game, first with his slap shot and then by using his giant body to screen the Leafs goalie. 

It is easy, of course, to overlook hockey stars in America, especially in Boston where all three of the other big sports teams have been so great at the same time. Most sports fans probably have not caught on to what Chara has done in his career, or, even more impressively, what Connor McDavid, barely more than half Chara’s age, is now doing (McDavid has been sparking hockey’s own GOAT debate — if you haven’t watched any Oilers hockey since Gretzky, try watching a period this year and you will immediately see why). It’s good, then, that Chara is going to a team where another physically imposing hockey great, Alex Ovechkin, has helped put hockey on the map. Going into this season, which starts next week, both Washington and Boston are near the top of the betting odds to win the Cup. 

Chara may also have one more run left in him on the international stage, with the 2022 Beijing Olympics now a year away. Thus far Chara has won two silvers with Slovakia at the World Championships (a tournament held annually), but has not yet won a medal at the Olympics, where the best that the Slovaks have finished is fourth place. 

This, of course, begs the question that often follows divorce: what if they had just stayed together? A post-Cold War Czechoslovakian team would have paired Chara — and other Slovak stars, such as Marian Hossa — with the Czech greats like Jagr and Hasek. This is one of the big “what if’s” of Eastern European sports, along with the much uglier breakup that put an end to Yugoslavia’s basketball teams. (Somewhere, in a more peaceful alternate reality, Doncic and Jokic are building an Olympic juggernaut together…). With no Czechoslovakia in play, the road to gold has been much easier for the likes of Canada (which, unlike Czechoslovakia, is actually a country divided by language), or for Olympic Athletes From Russia, than would otherwise have been the case. 

Indeed, all this is not just a eulogizer’s praise – Chara’s career’s not done yet.  Boston, it seems, wanted Chara to transition into becoming a penalty-kill specialist, but Chara still wants a bigger role than that, and Washington is prepared to give him one.  And if he can help his new team to one more Cup run, Chara will leave behind a hockey legacy that is nearly as unassailable as he is himself. 


T3: Trailer Trolleybus-Trolleytruck?

1942 Ford Semi-Trailer Bus - Other Truck Makes - BigMackTrucks.com

A 1942 Ford trailer bus

Trailer buses used to be fairly common. They were mostly abandoned by the early 1960s, having had a number of disadvantages when compared to conventional vehicles.  They often needed to employ both a driver (in the tractor) and conductor (in the trailer), for example, which greatly increased their operating costs.

München, Leopoldstraße 14.08.2017 | Münchner Verkehrsgesells… | Flickr

Munich trailer bus

A few cities, such as Munich, have recently started using some trailer buses again. Today’s trailer buses have the ability to automate away some of their previous disadvantages. They use digital payment systems and camera-monitors in order to do away with the need to employ a conductor, for instance. They also use rear-view and side-view cameras to help the driver keep the trailer from moving out of sync with tractor — and in the future they might use other driver-assist technologies to do so even more smoothly. The process of coupling and uncoupling the tractor and trailer from one another may also be automated, making it easier to add the trailer segment for use during rush hour and then decouple it from the tractor during less busy times of day when it is not needed.

In Switzerland, where hydro-electric dams have made electricity cheap and clean, trailer buses also come in trolleybus form:


Trailer trolleybus in Lausanne

Trailer buses can also be used to transport cargo, either by having a bus tow a cargo trailer, or by having a tractor unit alternate between towing a passenger trailer and a cargo trailer.  

bus trailer

This got me thinking again, in a roundabout way, about what might happen as companies automate the process of receiving deliveries of cargo, for instance by automating the unloading of trucks and the warehousing of their contents.  This would presumably allow more deliveries to take place at night, when warehouse labour would otherwise be expensive. It would therefore allow trucks to avoid daytime traffic.

Electric trucks would seem to be especially well-suited for nighttime deliveries, because they are much quieter than diesel trucks and because range-anxiety would be lessened when there are no traffic jams to get stuck in.

Best of all might be trolley-trucks, which, unlike battery-powered trucks, can operate 24 hours a day without needing to have their batteries charged. (Batteries, especially the big ones that  cargo trucks need, have many other economic and environmental costs to worry about too). Trolley-trucks would also benefit from avoiding daytime traffic, especially if they were sharing their wired routes with daytime trolleybuses, or if they were using small batteries to travel short distances off-wire. They would also benefit from the fact that electricity prices tend to be cheaper overnight than during the day.

Electric Trolley Trucks may come soon to North American highways ...

Perhaps most intriguing of all is the possibility of a trailer trolleybus-trolleytruck hybrid, where the trolley tractor unit pulls a passenger trailer during the day and a cargo trailer at night. Such a system could allow a city to buy fewer trolley tractor units, which tend to be more expensive than the trailers (especially if they have new, smart-pantograph wire-gripping technology) and then maximize their use by operating them close to 24 hours a day.   It might also help to address the first-mile/last-mile issues associated with trolley vehicles; namely, the question of how to use them off-wire. The cargo trailers could be pulled by diesel or battery-powered tractor units in off-wire areas, then decoupled and attached to trolley tractor units for the the wired section of the route.

This process might be useful for the passenger trailers too, if there are times when non-wired bus routes become in higher demand (a sporting event, for example), or if electricity is unavailable (if there is an extended blackout, for example), or if extreme weather puts the trolley wires out of service.


Countries’ True Heights

If for some reason you are trying to look up the average heights of people in various countries, you’ll quickly find that the tallest countries are in northern Europe or the Balkans, where men are just over 6 feet on average and women are around 5″7. The shortest are certain poor countries, such as Bolivia, where men average 5″3 and women between 4″8 and 5″0 feet.

I don’t know if these statistics are correct (the 4″8-5″0 range given for Bolivian women is suspiciously imprecise, for example). Even if they are accurate, you may have noticed that they do not really answer the question. These statistics are giving the heights of adult men and women. But, of course, not everyone is an adult, and not all countries are split equally between men and women.

If (again, for some reason) you are interested in finding the true heights of countries, you have to adjust for children and gender. Once you do this, you realize that the country with the shortest people on average is probably somewhere like Niger, where 50% of the population are under 15 years old. The country with the tallest people on average is probably somewhere like Qatar, where men outnumber women 3.4 to 1 and where only 14% of the population are under 15 years old. The true average height of Niger may be something like 4 feet; the true average height of Qatar may be something like 5″6.

[Actually, these estimates are probably way off too, since they do not take into account babies. The tallest places are presumably those which have had the fewest babies in the past year or so, and the shortest places those which have had the most].

This same adjustment can be applied to cities: the megacity of Lagos (in Nigeria, not Niger) is 50% children, whereas Tokyo is 12% children. Las Vegas, especially on the weekend, is perhaps the tallest — the most male and the most adult — big city in the United States, somewhat similar to the glitzy desert cities on the Persian Gulf coast.

Now, does knowing this have any real-life utility? No. But it might be cool if a city like Lagos were to build, say, a low-ceiling double-decker bus that only kids could comfortably use.



A Pan-Canadian NFL Team

Canada does not have a single stadium that would be suitable for an NFL franchise.

Canada does, however, have four stadiums that are not too unsuitable: Montreal’s Olympic Stadium, Edmonton’s Commonwealth Stadium, Vancouver’s BC Place, and Toronto’s Rogers Centre.

Instead of a city like Toronto spending $1 billion or so on a new stadium in order to get an NFL team of its own, Canada should aim for an NFL team that splits its eight home games per season between four existing stadiums in Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, and Edmonton. The team – the Canada Moose? – would play in Montreal and Edmonton during September and October, then in Toronto and Vancouver during November and December.

Montreal’s stadium can seat 66,000 people, but cannot be used in the winter. Edmonton’s can sit 56,000 people, but cannot easily be used in the winter either. Vancouver’s can sit 54,500 people, plus it has a retractable roof (and a much warmer climate) that allows for winter use. Toronto’s can only sit 49,000 people, but also has a retractable roof. No other stadiums in Canada are close to as big as these. The next largest, in Calgary, seats 36,000 people.

By way of comparison, the average NFL stadium can sit 69,500 people. Unlike in Montreal, Toronto, or Vancouver, most NFL stadiums were purpose-built for football. Still, this should not necessarily be a deal-breaker for Canada, because the NFL does not actually derive a large share of its revenues from ticket sales. Rather, revenues come from TV (and increasingly, Internet) deals and merchandising — which could make a Canadian franchise profitable, as it might have one of the biggest markets in the entire league.

What about playoff home games, where would they be played? Well, to begin with, no team ever plays more than 2 home playoff games per year, so the lack of a good-quality playoff stadium is probably not as big a problem as one might think. (Canada’s current favourite team, the Bills, have not played a single home playoff game in the past 24 years). When a home playoff game does need to be played, some or all of the following options could work:

  • Get Montreal to shell out the estimated $200 million needed to repair its retractable roof, thus allowing it to host some playoff games. There are already plans for such repairs to take place in advance of the FIFA World Cup in 2026
  • Make the venue conditional on the opponent. If playing a home game against Seattle, for example, play in Vancouver. If playing against Buffalo or Detroit, play in Toronto. If playing against New England, play in Montreal (if Montreal has fixed its roof).
  • Play a Superbowl-style Conference Final: if Canada’s team makes it to the semi-finals with home field advantage, play the game in a massive college football venue like Ben Hill Griffin Stadium (home of the Florida Gators; capacity 88,500), to which Canadian snowbirds could flock in January. Give all Canadian citizens first dibs on tickets.

Of course, the idea of a pan-Canadian team is not without risk. Such a team might have difficulty attracting good players. Canadian patriotism might not be sufficient to win new fans to the sport. It might just be too weird to have American cities competing against an entire country (although that has not limited the Raptors’ or Blue Jays’ aggressively national marketing strategies). Combined with the lack of a good stadium, these risks are not insignificant.

On the other hand, look at the possible rewards. You get a huge market in Canada, no wasting taxpayer dollars on a new football stadium, and no direct competition with the CFL or other pro sports franchises. The NFL also gains a lot of flexibility in scheduling, since it can have west coast matchups played in Vancouver or Edmonton and east coast matchups in Toronto or Montreal.

It would also create great local matchups. Canadian games against Seattle, Buffalo, Detroit, Cleveland, and New England would be especially fun. So would Canadian games in snowbird states like Florida, Arizona, Nevada, or California around Christmas-time. Even isolated cities like Green Bay, Minneapolis, Denver, and Kansas City would be able to pull in some tailgaters from the Prairie provinces.

I think the rewards outweigh the risks. For Canada to get an NFL team, without having to build any huge new football stadiums, would be as good as Thanksgiving coming twice a year.



5 Future Sports

Highlight Reel Baseball
Baseball, but with the outfield stands pushed back about 100 feet and the Designated Hitter replaced by a Rover (an extra outfielder). Out-of-the-park home runs would become a lot less common, but doubles, triples, inside-the-park-home-runs, diving catches and throw outs and base running would become a lot more common. In other words, baseball would actually become an exciting team sport, instead of just a pitcher-vs-hitter sport that is only exciting in the playoffs.

High Kick 
Football (soccer), but instead of a goal net there is a circular, quidditch-esque hoop high in the air (15- 20 feet up, maybe), and the goalie crease is a trampoline that only the goalkeeper is allowed to use.

Lake Hockey
Ice hockey on a massive lake or in a football stadium. If played on a lake, there is no limit to how big the playing surface can be, or how many players per team there can be. The goalie’s net is soccer-sized — or at least, bigger than an NHL net.  The ice quality is maintained by robo-zambonis

Canadian Basketball
Basketball, played on a hockey-sized court (2.1 times longer and 1.7 wider than an NBA court), with hockey-style line changes (‘on the fly’, rather than during stoppages of play),  three 20-minute periods per game,  first-basket-wins overtime, only 1 timeout per team per game, boards instead of out-of-bounds, and, instead of free throws, a 2 minute penalty kill following every 3 fouls by a single player. All baskets are worth 1 point.

Played on roller blades, with a tennis ball, on a football-field-sized clay court. Each team has 3 racketeers (they carry tennis rackets), 2 sticklers (they carry hockey sticks), and 1 Lone Gunslinger (he/she carries a hockey stick, but also has a tennis racket slung over his/her shoulder, to unholster and re-holster at will). The goal can be either a soccer net with a goalkeeper, or a raised hoop with no keeper.


Back-of-the-Envelope World City


1000 square feet per person, for an apartment with a large balcony, is very comfortable.

For 10 billion people to have 1000 square feet is 10 trillion square feet.

With 10-story buildings, 10 trillion square feet would require 1 trillion square feet of land.

1 trillion square feet is 92,900 square km…let’s round that up and say 100,000 square km.

Throw in another 60% more land for roads, parks, etc. – also a very comfortable amount, especially if you don’t waste most of it on cars –  and you get 160,000 sq. km.

160,000 square km is a square with sides of 400 km. It is about the size of Wisconsin, or Tunisia.

In Canada alone, there is already an estimated 126,000 square km of urban land.

If you don’t like living in a spacious apartment 10 stories high, but prefer instead that your city have 5-story buildings, you would need 2 trillion square feet of land for apartments. That’s 186,000 square km of land. Add another 60 percent for public space and you get a bit under 300,000 square km. That’s a square with sides of about 550 km. That’s the size of Arizona, or Italy.

Whatever else we may lack, space is not it.