Dr Nick Owen MBE PLUS

Working in and on the Business of Cultural Education


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Day 16 of the Basketball 2.6 Challenge: y = 1.8393x + 2.019

Not content with plotting the past, the numbers are now encouraging me to predict the future.

The genius of Excel allow you calculate a trendline based on past achievements, and plot your future with a high degree of mathematical certainty.  I’d say a precision level of certainty, found only in the Rolls Royce factories of Derby and the East Midlands.

This now means the end of idle guess work and those moments of anxiety fuelled by What the Heck? (or worse); Why On Earth? You’re ‘avin’ a laff’ can be replaced by the cool scientific endeavour of the linear forecast equation.

y = 1.8393x + 2.019

If you’ve been following the rather tortured trail of the last 15 days, you’ll have spotted the ever-increasing mountain of statistics which have led to the above statement.

It means in short, that I can be guaranteed that on day 20, I will have shot 39.8976 baskets; and by day 26 (the pinnacle of this challenge) I can safely predict a final score of 51.26118 baskets.  There’s a thought!  What 0.26118 of a basket consists of still has to be figured out but I’m guessing it’ll be something to do with those balls that spiral downwards, only to leap out again when you least expect it and when your invigilator has ticked it off as a score.

Praise the Lord for the Linear Forecast Equation and for the glimpse of the future it predicts!

DayAttemptsNear MissesBasketsEffort (Baskets/ Attempt)Baskets/ Minute (BPM)FeelGood FactorTotal timeTotal ShotsTotal BasketsSuccess rate
1N/A08N/A0.308N/A268
21940157.73%0.577N/A5219423
31898721.06%0.07746.03%78383256.5%
419010773.68%0.26956.32%104573325.6%
5192105115.73%0.42354.69%130765435.6%
616710863.59%0.23164.67%156932495.3%
7174114148.05%0.53865.52%1821,106635.7%
9180108168.89%0.61560.00%2341,286634.9%
101661181810.84%0.69271.08%2601,452795.4%
111811212011.05%0.76966.85%2861,633975.9%
121761152413.64%0.92365.34%3121,8091176.5%
131791112413.41%0.92362.01%3381,9881417.1%
141761251910.80%0.73171.02%3642,1641607.4%
151671013219.16%1.23160.48%3902,3311928.2%
16147903523.81%1.34661.22%4162,4782279.2%

You can find out why I’m taking the 2.6 Basketball Challenge here  Any help you can offer is much appreciated!.


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Day 14 of the Basketball 2.6 Challenge: it depends how you count ’em.

Some ago I made a cultural exchange visit to Finland as part of the Culture for Cities and Regions project. Touring around the Helsinki region, our guides were charmingly equivocal about what looked pretty straight forward.

Whether it was golf courses in Espoo (7 or 8), municipalities in Helsinki (4 or 14) or lakes in Finland (187,888 plus or minus), it all depends, as it turns out, on how you counted them. Our hosts were relativistic tour guides par excellence and thought nothing of giving the figures a  good interrogation as we drove up hill down dale and into a lake.

For phenomena which you might think are pretty unequivocal (when is a golf course not a golf course?), it turns out that there is a lot more to a thing than meets the eye.

Walking along the coastline of the Tooivo Kuulas park one morning you could see why. One moment the lake looks like an impressively large pond; the next it stretches way off into the distance and conjures up memories of Balaton Lake in Hungary; yet soon enough you find out that it’s not a lake at all but just another link in the supply chain to the Baltic Sea.

It struck me that the same case could be said for student attainment. How can a country’s education system said to be performing well? Through its ratings on the PISA scale? Numbers of students who graduate into work on completion of their undergraduate study? Aggregated ratings on a mental health scale of well being? Like the lakes in Finland, it depends on how you count them. My top PISA rating may be nothing more than a drop in your Baltic Sea when it comes to evaluating the relevance those ratings have on learners’ lives.

And when it comes to counting basketballs falling through hoops, the same principle clearly applies.  Does one successful shot equate to a ball falling into the hoop and then falling all the way to the ground?  Or could you count balls that fell partially through the hoop, only to inexplicably spin out upwards a short time later?

Whilst it’s temporarily startling that Espoo has a disputed number of golf courses in its territory, it is comforting to think that if we can’t count golf courses with confidence, we can confidently be a little less confident about the value of numbers when it comes to understanding the effects of cultural education on our children and indeed the number of occasions a basketball has properly fallen the requisite distance to qualify as a bona fide shot.

So, whilst today’s statistics might look like they’re disappointingly a bit shy of the target, we can find comfort in the spreadsheet when we realise that these numbers are not hard and fast things in their own right, but are subject to interpretation, imagination and the vagaries of the act of counting itself.

DayAttemptsNear MissesBasketsEffort (Baskets/ Attempt)Baskets/ Minute (BPM)FeelGood FactorTotal timeTotal ShotsTotal BasketsSuccess rate
1N/A08N/A0.308N/A268
21940157.73%0.577N/A5219423
31898721.06%0.07746.03%78470255.3%
419010773.68%0.26956.32%104767324.2%
5192105115.73%0.42354.69%1301,064434.0%
616710863.59%0.23164.67%1561,339493.7%
7174114148.05%0.53865.52%1821,627633.9%
9180108168.89%0.61560.00%2341,915633.3%
101661181810.84%0.69271.08%2602,199793.6%
111811212011.05%0.76966.85%2862,501973.9%
121761152413.64%0.92365.34%3122,7921174.2%
131791112413.41%0.92362.01%3383,0821414.6%
141761251910.80%0.73171.02%3643,3831604.7%

You can find out why I’m taking the 2.6 Basketball Challenge here  Any help you can offer is much appreciated!.


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Day Three of the Basketball 2.6 Challenge: lies, damned lies, statistics and delusions.

Enthused by the possibilities of baselines, statistics and indisputable quantitative improvement, Day Three of the 2.6 challenge commenced in bright sunlight, no wind and a dry forecourt.  Perfect conditions to build on the 87.500000% improvement of yesterday of 0.57692308 BPM and a baseline effort score of 0.07731959 BPA.

Some 189 throws and 26 minutes later however, I was looking at a miserable two baskets achieved.  Two! After the amazing step forward of the previous day of 15!  What had gone wrong?

I could comfort myself though with a new statistic: the number of near misses.  Yvonne, my independent invigilator, recorded the number of occasions in which the ball hit the hoop but failed to succumb to the invitation to fall through the net and this generated a more cheering statistic: a whopping 87 near misses!

Even if it’s another baseline, it is at least an indication that given another couple of centimetres, the success rate could increase again rapidly.  The question remains though: centimetres of what? Elbow extension? Arm height? Standing to the left? Standing to the right?  The possible variations multiplied at an astonishing rate but unfortunately, I was still left with a sobering 0.07692308 BPM: i.e. a chronic 86.666666recurring % collapse of performance.  Back to the mentor, coach and as many YouTube videos as possible over the next 24 hours.

Mark Twain quoted that Benjamin Disraeli, the former British PM, claimed  there are lies, damned lies and statistics but I’m pretty sure that he had never tried shooting a few basketballs in his spare time.

(Whether he inspired the performance of the Bridgewater Eagles though is another matter.)

You can find out why I’m involved in the 2.6 Challenge – and how you can help – here.


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Day Two of the Basketball 2.6 Challenge: Progress is many a splendoured thing.

Yesterday’s modest tally of eight baskets after 26 minutes was nothing if not a baseline. 

We’re used to baselines in education: in order to know how much we’ve progressed we need to know where we’ve started from and a data baseline (whether this be of fronted adverbials,   adjective declensions or educational attainment in general) is pretty much as good a starting point as any.

So, OK, eight baskets after 26 minutes may not count for much, but it does at least give you a baseline figure of 0.30769231 baskets per minute. (Doncha just love figures to eight decimal places?  They remind me of population statistics that state things like ‘2.4 people live In a normal household’.  Ever seen 0.4 of a person?  No, me neither unless you count those people lying comatose in the streets after a Covid-lockdown-release pub crawl.)

But I digress. 0.30769231 baskets per minute  (or BPM – note the immediate adoption of an acronym when it comes to measuring success) may or may or may not be a measure of success, but it is certainly a baseline.  And something to build on, as football managers are wont to say after the 15-0 thrashing of their side by their league’s minnows.  ‘We may have just been humiliated, Brian, by a team which is holding up the whole of the English football league, but our attacking spirit gave me hope and is something to build on.”

 So today, I was determined to build on that baseline of Day One and achieve success.  However, what often happens when you start to measure success, you find yourself with an overwhelming desire to measure all sorts of other things which you hope will indicate whether or not you are actually achieving anything, in what context you’re achieving it, whether you’re getting any better, or whether the whole endeavour is a complete waste of yours and everybody else’s time.

Today was a case in point.  Not content enough just to measure BPM  (Baskets per minute, do please keep up at the back), it struck me that it would be really useful not just to measure balls that followed a trajectory of hand air basket swoosh bounce and a triumphant yeh, but to measure how much effort this took. 

I arbitrarily decided that Yvonne, my independent invigilator, also now needed to start counting how many attempts I had made at causing that trajectory.  My feeling was that effort could be determined by calculating the ratio of the number of balls thrown to the number of successful baskets.  Logically, if every effort succeeded in achieving a basket, then my effort would be 100%. Note how one’s feelings could soon be legitimised by expressing an event in logical terms.  This gives one a curious sense of intellectual satisfaction, even if no-one else has been involved in the calculus.

So, count the number of attempts as well as the number of successes she did.  After 24 attempts I had scored precisely nul point meaning my effort was precisely zero.  However, on the 25th attempt I actually shot one basket meaning that my effort had increased dramatically to 0.04 exactly.  An infinite improvement on the situation I had found myself in just seconds before.  This was a very satisfying moment and gave me (if not Yvonne) confidence that we were moving in the right direction.  Something else to build on if you like.

Before I knew it  (well, actually after 26 minutes in fact) we stopped the challenge and counted up the ‘scores on the doors’ as Brucie like to chuckle in The Generation Game. 

15 hoops over 194 attempts over 26 minutes.

0.57692308 BPM.  Up from 0.30769231 BPM from the day before. An increase of a massive 87.500000%.

An effort score of 0.07731959 BPA. Good? Bad? Indifferent?  It is at least another baseline and something I look forward to building on over the remaining 24 days of the challenge. 

And BPA?  Baskets per Attempts of course.  Where would we be without our acronyms? Struggling to determine whether we were making any progress at all, that’s for sure.

You can find out why I’m involved in the 2.6 Challenge – and how you can help – here.

Thanks to the Sunday Night Quiz Gang for the graphic!