Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The Dangers of Compounding Effects

I saw a movie several years ago, forgot the title, but it was made by HBO and aired on HBO.  It was comedic look at the development of the of the Army’s Bradley Fighting vehicle.  As I recall the Army was in need of a new troop transport vehicle that could deliver a squad of infantry to the front, quickly, while offering a certain amount of protection where upon arrival the squad would dismount the vehicle quickly and take positions soon thereafter.  Essentially what they needed was a Halftrack for those WWII buffs out there. 
The movie was presented from the point of view of the Air Force officer who was overseeing the Army effort (memory is a bit sketchy as to why the Air Force was needed here but the officer was played by Carey Elwes).  Initial plans were drawn up that met the Army specs and it was presented to top brass which then hemhawed around and decided that something more than a machine gun was needed on top of the vehicle to really “Scare the enemy”, so the plans were redrawn and re-engineered to include a mid caliber cannon.  The new plans were presented to the top brass again where it was decided that “Wow with that big gun on the vehicle, the enemy might decide to shoot at it” so more armor was needed to protect the troops inside who were now a target because of the Gun on top of the vehicle they were riding in.  Plans were redrawn again with more armor and re-presented again to top brass that decided, with all the extra armor, the vehicle was now too slow, therefore it needed a bigger engine so it would be faster.  Yep, back to the drawing board, this time there wasn’t enough fuel on board to go necessary distances and back to the drawing board.  This played out repeatedly with several more iterations that I will not bore you with, but in the end the Army got their vehicle and it could be said that the final product essentially was either a big armored car or a light tank with enough jump seats to seat HALF a squad and it is a point of contention as to how effective it was in service.  BUT, one thing is not debatable, it that it wound up way over budget, costing hundreds of millions more to create produce than it was supposed to. 
That is the risk of Compounding Effects. 
Similar things happen within the medical field as well.  Grandma has an ailment, the Dr has two drugs to choose from, both have potential side effects.  Dr assigns drug #1 and patient is relieved of the initial ailment but now suffers from the side effects.  Since the initial ailment is gone, no thought is given to trying the other drug with the hope that it will have the same therapeutic effect w/o the side effects.  Instead, the Dr starts prescribing drugs to treat the side effects of the first drug and of course those drugs also have side effects that then require more drugs, and soon Grandma is taking 15 different drugs, is pretty doped up and comatose, has blown through her pension money, is broke and is now living in a Medicare run nursing home being molested by perverted orderlies.
The IndyCar brass are now flirting with the dangers of Compounding Effects.  IndyCar starts and restarts have been very poor in recent years.  Cars accelerating on the back half of the race course anticipating a green flag have stretched out fields and reduced the opportunity for passing that a restart might otherwise have offered.
One solution is simply hold off dropping the green flag until all cars are on the front stretch of the track and then allowing them to go green.  Which has been instituted.  But not content to stop there, IndyCar has now decided that it needs Double file restarts to make absolutely sure that at least some passing occurs on restarts.  But then all the “Elite” drivers decided that they were afraid of re starting next to some of the also rans since they feared being crashed out by incompetent drivers. SO then the decision was made to have the lead lap cars filter to the front and the lapped cars to the back on restarts.  Then came the outrage that a car not on the lead lap, only trailing a couple lead cars, was now in the impossible position of never being able to get its lap back.  SO now we heard today that IndyCar is adopting the “lucky dog” rule to let the first car not on the lead lap to get its lap back.  (the perils of Compounding Effects? I ask…)
Soon a mob of angry IndyCar bloggers wearing bathrobes and slippers (their usual attire) assembled outside IMS administrative offices at 16th and Georgetown and began to throw rotten eggs and eat cold pizza.  Oh the humanity!
As @shagers points out.  Why can’t we just try fixing the restarts by dropping the flag in the right place and see if that does the trick first??  Otherwise, the next thing that will come up from the compounding logic will be that since the cars are so close together on restarts, they need fenders to make sure the wheels don’t touch…
In all practicality, what the rule will accomplish is that more often than not, the 21rst fastest car now gets to cycle back around to the harass the 20th Fastest car without having to concern themselves with the 22nd fastest car.  Will @isismayyet suggests that this will get the 21rst car some additional camera time for its sponsor, but is it good exposure?  “Now the XYZ car gets a free handout because it sucks less than the other sucky cars” great brand exposure …if you can get it.
@onelapdown mentioned today that really only the red and white teams stand to benefit here.  The place where this rule will be a game changer for those teams will be when one of the fastest cars in the field makes either a pit mistake, either with a long stop or getting penalized for some sort of infraction. With the lucky dog, penalties now lose their teeth.  Mistakes no longer carry CONSEQUENCES.  Some of the great stories in the history of the 500 now lose their ability to compel because the odds were not so stacked against the team and the feat of coming back from adversity was not so great.
I am of the opinion that if the Lucky Dog stays (which should not be written in stone otherwise risking the ire of many of the leagues current fans) that it should be optional for the car entitled to it.  But if the option is used, then the car is docked 3 pts from those scored for the race.  If you review the points paying structure, 3 points will all but deter any cars from 18th place on down will ever use it.  Cars from 10 to 17 will have to have a strong dose of optimism to use it and meaning that only teams that think they can really move up the standings or win, would use it.  But by using it, the penalty would still bite and mistakes would have consequences.  The moment that it took for the team to decide not to use it would give the sponsors Will’s additional air time and the whole decision to “Go for Two” or not will throw a little intrigue into the broadcast.
To me, one of the lessons of the split was this.  That IndyCar couldn’t succeed by out nascar-ing nascar and Cart could not succeed by out F1-ing F1.  IndyCar needs to find its own solutions to problems and not simply copy the rule book from another series.  At the end of the day I simply ask, can’t we simply drop the damn green flag when it is supposed to be dropped and let the drama play out from there?


  1. "IndyCar needs to find its own solutions to problems and not simply copy the rule book from another series."

    That's it in a nutshell! You got it in 1, JP! Very nice analysis.

  2. I like the idea of docking any car that uses a Lucky Dog 3 points, but I prefer your ideas of "dropping the green flag at the correct time and not letting anybody jump the start" far better. I was OK with keeping single file but shuffling lap down cars to the back (I think ChampCar did this for a year or so, and it worked just fine and I don't remember anybody getting royally screwed by getting shuffled to hte back; if they were a lap down they probably had little chance of actually getting their lap back from the leaders anyway), but the double file with the lapped cars in there was more or less OK by me too. Double file with lapped cars at the back was the absolute limit of how much I want to see the field manipulated. "Lucky Dog" is a bridge too far. It's probably too late now, but a complete rethink of what they're trying to solve and then keeping it simple would be the best thing to do now.


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