Saturday, October 23, 2010

Fantasy Golf: Missing the Cut

Buy at Art.comIt seems every major pro sport has a fantasy equivalent now. Football and baseball are the most well known but basketball, hockey, auto racing and even golf all have their own fantasy game. Fantasy Golf? Yup.

I've played fantasy football and fantasy NASCAR for years. For some crazy reason I decided to try fantasy golf this year. My reason was to see if I could use a similar strategy as I do in fantasy NASCAR, which has a similar format, to win in fantasy golf. (I need a better hobby)

I enjoy playing real golf but can't watch more than 5 minutes of it on TV. Golf news doesn't interest me and I don't follow the tour. For example, I'm such a PGA dunce that I didn't know the season had already started when I registered (did you know the tour starts in January?) and I had missed the first 4 tournaments! Fortunately there's not a draft and new players can join at any time.

But I like a challenge so I stuck with it. Despite earning 0 points for those first 4 tourneys and not following the sport at all (not easy given the news media's obsession with Tiger this year) I still finished the season in the top 37% of all Yahoo! fantasy golf teams!

That's not great but better than I expected. I'm guessing the bottom 50% probably quit updating their roster during the season.

In fantasy golf you should check your roster the day before and every day during a tournament. Every golfer doesn't play in every tournament so you have to make sure they're entered that week. Even then they might chicken out at the last minute...I got burned by a couple late withdrawals. Some of your starters might miss the cut before the final two days so make sure you at least check then...and hopefully your back up made the cut.

At the start of the season I picked my roster based on Yahoo's so called expert picks. They sucked. This caused some grief because I wanted to use the same strategy that works for me in fantasy NASCAR. That is to use the expert picks to fill my roster, then adjust as needed based on my knowledge and player starts remaining. I had to abandon that strategy after 4 or 5 weeks of lousy scores.

Next I switched to starting the scoring leaders who were entered that week. That worked a little better. By the middle of the season I realized that the biggest thing costing me points (other than not following professional golf) was players missing the cut...and me missing that they had missed the cut because I didn't check my roster Saturday morning.

So I looked at the ratio of a player's starts to their missed cuts (MC). If a player had 12 starts and 1 MC, he'd get the start over a guy with 11 starts and 3 MCs...even if player #2 had a higher average score. Since I didn't check my roster every day during a tournament, it was more valuable for me to have players with a higher likelihood of playing and scoring something versus a high scorer with a habit of missing cuts and scoring zero.

This approach worked well for me in the 2nd half of the season, my weekly scores got more consistent and I climbed in the rankings. If you follow golf regularly and are willing to dedicate the time to check your roster frequently then I don't recommend this strategy for you. But if you're someone with only a slight interest in golf that got roped into a fantasy league with your buddies, it could be worth a try.

Will I continue playing fantasy golf? No. This season was an experiment. None of my friends play it and I'm not interested in following the PGA tour. So there's nothing to justify the time cost...I'd much rather spend that time with my family or doing something productive.

But if you're into golf and fantasy sports...give fantasy golf a shot.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Lessons From My First Fantasy Football Auction Draft

After 7 years playing fantasy football I finally did an auction draft last week. My 14 team work league made the switch this season. It was a lot of fun and kept my attention more than a traditional serpentine draft.

In an auction draft you're always on. I had to consider each player on the block, manage my budget, make bids, plan my next nomination, evaluate my team's needs and try to figure out the strategies of other coaches. That's a lot to process but it was exciting and made the draft more strategic.

Here's a summary of what I did right and wrong in my first auction draft...

My Auction Draft Mistakes:
  • Overpaid for my kicker and defense. I let myself get caught up in a run on kickers and spent $4.
  • Got burned a couple times trying to drive up prices. This is how I overpaid for my D...thought I could get another coach to outbid me one last time. Not.
  • Didn't bid high enough on stud players early in the draft and finished the draft with $10 unspent. That money would've done me more good going after top players I wanted earlier.
  • Did very little player research and barely followed NFL news over the summer. It's tough to value players, identify sleepers and avoid problem players that way.

Things I Did Right In The Auction:
  • Mostly stuck to my strategy. The FantasyGuru draft kit on Yahoo's "Draft Central" tab provided good auction strategy advice.
  • Did a mock auction draft the day before. This helped me learn the mechanics of the online draft tool so that I could focus on my strategy during the draft. Definitely do a mock draft before doing your first auction draft.
  • Nominated some players that I wasn't interested in to determine value and get money off the table.
  • Looked for other coaches' strategies during the draft. This wasn't easy to do with 13 other teams so I focused only on the guys I knew had experience with auction drafts. They were usually the ones nominating backups and kickers early in the draft.

One downside to the auction format is that the draft can take longer. Snake drafts in this league have taken 90 minutes to 2 hours in years past. The auction draft ran about 3 hours before the last teams were done. Some coaches were done in under 2 took me 2 hours and 15 minutes to fill my roster.

Overall I liked the auction draft format better than a snake draft. It was fun and I drafted a decent team despite my rookie mistakes. What do you an auction draft or snake draft better?

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Oregano Takes Over The Garden

oregano-garden-2Plants can surprise you. Last year I planted a little oregano plant. It did well and we enjoyed fresh oregano all summer long.

Oregano is a perennial (something I learned after planting it) but I didn't expect this delicate looking herb to survive the winter...hah!

This hardy plant survived freezing temperatures plus several feet of snow! You can see in the photo that it's now spreading out across the garden. That's a lot of oregano. I'll have to harvest much of it to make room for the rest of this year's crops.

What to do with all that oregano? We'll use some now and dry more for future use. For the rest...I hope my neighbors like fresh oregano.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

The Garden's First Soil Test

A soil test provides good intel on how suitable your garden's soil is for the plants you want to grow. I didn't do one last year after building my garden (when I should have) and finally got to it a few weeks ago.

I've been reading an excellent gardening book called The Vegetable Gardener's Bible by Edward C. Smith which has several pages on soil tests and what to do with the results. I was wary of using a home test kit but Smith recommends it for most soil testing and a full lab test when building a new bed or making major changes to an existing one. Since labs are busiest in spring, he also says you can get quicker lab test results in late summer or fall when the labs aren't so busy.

Unlike a lab test which provides data on many soil nutrients, a home kit only tests the four things that make the most impact on your plants...acidity (pH), Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Potassium levels. I wanted quick test results in order to make changes to improve this year's crop and got a home test kit.

The test is easy to take. Dig up soil, pick or sift out the big pieces and add distilled water. Use distilled water to prevent minerals in your tap water from skewing the results. The test kit includes color coded vials and powders to use for each test. The pH test is done right away by adding the soil, water and powder directly to the vial and shaking. For the nutrient tests, you have to mix the soil and water in another container first and wait for the soil to settle out. Then you mix the water and powder in the vial.

The powder reacts with each sample and will change color depending on the level. A color indicator chart on each vial tells you what the result is. Simply match the color of the test sample to the color on the chart.

The Results...

pH - Soil Acidity
The pH test result was in the 7.0-7.5 range. That's neutral to alkaline which is ok but not optimal. The sweet spot for most vegetables I plan to grow is around 6.5.

I added peat moss and dead leaves to increase the acidity. Of course two days later I read that using peat moss isn't environmentally friendly. Well, I can't return it back to the bog. I'll look for other options next time.

N - Nitrogen
The first key nutrient test and I flunked. No color change at all. That means the Nitrogen in the soil is depleted and my plants will be lucky to grow at all.

I added a couple bags of organic compost (which I planned on getting anyway) and worked in some fresh grass clippings. Hopefully that will be enough otherwise I'll have to buy blood meal or some other organic fertilizer. I'm trying to avoid adding any commercial fertilizers unless necessary.

P - Phosphorus
Bombed this one too. To increase the Phosphorus I bought a 10lb. bag of rock phosphate and added half of it to the garden. Smith recommends occasionally throwing a little rock phosphate into your compost pile to keep the garden's phosphorus level up over time. I might try that.

K - Potassium
I nailed this one! The test results showed a surplus of potassium (it's the orange one in the picture...ain't it pretty?). From what I read it doesn't sound like a surplus of this nutrient will do any harm so no changes needed.

Based on the test results I've made some changes to the garden's soil and I'm ready to start planting. I'll test again in the fall (maybe a full lab test) to give more time for any needed changes to take effect.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

12 First Year Gardening Lessons Learned

My family always had a big vegetable garden when I grew up and I have many memories of tending it with my dad and enjoying the fresh veggies we grew. That was a long time ago and last year was the first time that I had a big enough yard to start my own garden. Now that the winter snow has finally melted and I can see the garden again, it's a good time to review the key things I learned from my first year of gardening...

#1 - Protect The Garden From Critters
I knew bugs and slugs could be a problem but didn't realize how many rabbits and deer are in our new neighborhood. They quickly put a hurtin' on my unprotected plants. Eventually I found a way to keep them out that still allowed me easy access to the plants. Lesson here is to defend the garden early and well before the first critter gets into it. Once he does and finds that delicious buffet line, he'll tell his buddies.

#2 - Cherry Tomatoes Grow Like Crazy
I put in 1 grape and 2 "Sweet 100" cherry tomato plants (we love fresh cherry tomatoes on our salads). The grape tomatoes did well but the cherries would've taken over the entire garden if I'd let them! Both plants shot up and out with at least 4 or 5 new trunks growing out from the base. We had so many cherry tomatoes I was taking them to work for a healthy snack every day. There were dozens that fell off the vine because we couldn't pick them all in time.

#3 - Space Out Tomato Plants
In addition to the cherry and grape tomato plants, I had one each of Big Boy, Better Boy, Early Girl and Cherokee Purple planted in about 18 square feet of the garden. This was way too dense...the 2 cherry plants could've taken up that space by themselves. By the end of summer, all the plants (except the Cherokee Purple which suffered the most damage from the deer) were so large and interwoven that it was nearly impossible to tell the big tomatoes apart. This also prevented enough sunlight to get in to fully ripen some of the tomatoes and prevent rot.

#4 - Build Garden Beds Long & Narrow
My first raised bed garden is 10'x6'. I figured that a 6' width would maximize the square footage and I'd still be able to reach plants in the middle without stepping in and compacting the soil. What I didn't fully consider was that I'd need to put a fence around the whole thing to keep the critters out (see lesson #1). Reaching over or through the fence makes it difficult to reach the middle. Future beds will be 3' to 4' in width.

#5 - Start With Seedlings For Some Plants
It took forever for my cucumber, zucchini and squash to get going. I had to reseed each of them. Maybe I did something wrong planting them or they didn't like the soil...I haven't figured that out yet. This year I'll start them indoors and transplant the seedlings.

#6 - Harvest Carrots On Time
I forgot that the seed packet had given a time to maturity for these. When I finally pulled them out of the ground, it was 30 days past their maturity. The carrots were tough in the middle and tasted bitter (this could also be a soil issue). I'll pay more attention this season and hopefully have better tasting results.

#7 - Soaker Hoses Work Well
These hoses are made from recycled tires and slowly weep water out over their entire length. It's a great way to water your garden and minimize water lost to evaporation.

#8 - Mulch The Garden To Reduce Weeds
Covering the bare soil helps prevent weeds from taking root and keeps moisture in the ground for your plants. We never mulched our garden when I was a kid but someone recommended it and I'm glad I tried it. I used grass clippings as mulch and had very few weeds to pull. Straw, old leaves and shredded newspaper are some other things that can be used as mulch.

#9 - Mr. Stripey Tomatoes Rock!
Mr. Stripey is an heirloom tomato plant that I bought because I wanted to try different heirloom varieties and this one looked cool with its red and yellow stripes. Unfortunately I planted it in a container on the deck using some old topsoil and it never thrived. It produced only one awesomely delicious tomato! Possibly the best I've ever tasted. It will get a proper spot in the garden this year.

#10 - Plan Your Garden
Before planting anything I plotted out where every plant would go on graph paper. Using different sized coins and other round objects I traced a spot for each plant based on its expected size at maturity. It's much easier to move things around with pencil and paper than when they're already planted. Even though I underestimated the full size of the tomato plants (especially the cherries), this chart helped me get the most use of my limited garden area.

#11 - Use The Right Stake For Tomatoes
My dad rarely staked the tomatoes (or any plant) in our garden when I was a kid. I don't know why, maybe because we had so much space, maybe because his dad didn't. Since I have limited space in my garden, I bought bamboo stakes for staking the tomatoes. They worked well for the first month but once the plants reached a few feet high and started producing fruit, they pulled the bamboo stakes over. So I had to buy heavy duty 5' wooden stakes and drive those in next to each plant, possibly damaging its established root system. Now I know to use big stakes when planting and can avoid wasting time, money and risk of root damage.

#12 - A Garden Can Be Started Almost Anywhere
I said at the top that last year was the first time I had a yard big enough for a garden. Well, it was really the first time I thought I had a yard big enough. For most of my life I believed that a garden required a big yard. Last year I learned that's not true at all. Turns out I could've planted a garden in any of the small yards or decks I had before moving into this house. Whether it be a salad box or a couple small raised beds, you can start a garden almost anywhere and start learning valuable gardening lessons. It only takes a little initiative and creativity.

What lessons have you learned about gardening?

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

How The US Census Bureau Is Wasting Taxpayer Money

Yesterday I received an envelope from the the U.S. Census Bureau. "Cool, must be our census form", I thought. Nope, it was a letter from the director to tell me that I should receive a census form in the mail in about a week. Huh?

Why bother wasting the money to print and mail out these notices when they could simply send me the form? People are as likely to open the envelope with the form as they are the envelope with this advance notice. I know the census is this year and will gladly fill out the form and send it back.

I don't know how much the Census bureau wasted sending this letter to every address in the country. When the IRS sent a similar advance notice about the tax rebate checks during the Bush administration, news reports at the time placed the cost at around $20 million.

The average U.S. tax payer pays roughly $7,907 a year in income taxes. If the $20 million figure holds true for this mailing, that would mean income taxes paid by the hard work of 2,529 U.S. taxpayers funded nothing else but this useless letter. And the government wonders why citizens are upset over wasteful spending and budget deficits. That $20 million could've gone towards paying off the federal debt (a drop in the bucket, but still a lot of money and drops add up).

The census is a valuable tool, only happens every 10 years and is only as accurate as the data provided by citizens. The bureau has the responsibility to get the word out and reach a high participation rate. I get that and support their efforts.

They also have a responsibility to taxpayers to spend our tax dollars wisely. Sending out useless letters and producing lame Ed Begley, Jr. commercials that aren't effective doesn't help them achieve either goal.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

An Afternoon At The Catoctin Central RR

FCSCME RailcarMy oldest and I visited the Catoctin Central Railroad in Frederick recently. It's a large HO gauge train layout built by the Frederick County Society of Model Engineers (FCSME) on the east side of town. They were having one of their regular free open houses (donations accepted).

The layout's housed in an old Chesapeake & Ohio rail car originally used to transport race horses. It runs nearly the full length of the 70' rail car. There's also a G gauge garden layout outside that was running and a big hit with kids despite the drizzle.

Touring the layout was fun...we went through three times to make sure we caught as many details as possible. Members of the club gladly answered questions and one even showed us how to use an old telegraph. We'll definitely visit again and I'm adding this to my list of favorite things in Frederick County.