Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Knowing your teammates

After further reflection on this weekends events at the White Mountain Open, I wanted to talk a little about some of the things that I noticed. While I understand why we have to do tournaments like this, bringing tryouts and throwing them into the fire, seeing what they like, what they don't, what kind of confidence they have in their cuts, throws, defense and general field presence, it also highlights an important part of the game, which is communication, familiarity with your teammates, and expectations (cutting, etc.).

I was trying to compare between the two DoG teams this weekend. While the results weren't that different (it was just a function of when each team met Twisted Metal), as Jim said, I suspect that we would have lost had we played the other team. What I immediately noticed when watching their games was the play of the handlers. They happened to have two DoG handlers (that had also played together on Dork House) whereas for much of the tournament, we had one (me), and Tom Matthews showed up on Sunday, but I can basically count on one hand the number of times we have been on the field together (he plays on the defense). The other teams offense looked much more fluid than ours, and I attribute most of that to the handler play.

I can't count the number of times that I would get a dump, turn to continue the swing up the break mark side only to find the entire stack staring at me, whereas the other DoG team almost always had somebody cutting to continue the flow up the break mark side. Not so coincidentally, our squad had more handler tryouts, and the other squad had more receiver tryouts.

When our offense ran well, it looked great. However, it was usually too stop and go. Second cutting was largely non-existent. This resulted in me having to get the disc far more than I would have liked.

Similar to what Jim is asking over in his blog as to whether there is a way to fast-track acquiring good decision-making skills, is there a way to fast-track acquiring good communication/expectations with new teammates? It's the little things like knowing when the person who is cutting is going to bail out of his cut, knowing their preferred cutting lanes, the cutter knowing your available throws, etc. Obviously I have that with Jim after 15 years, but how do I get that with others?

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Monday, May 23, 2005

White Mountain Open

Got back yesterday from what used to be my favorite spring tournament, the White Mountain Open at Dartmouth in New Hampshire. This was the 8th edition, and I think I have made 5 or 6 of them. I put together a team for the first one that consisted of players from DoG and RoQ (the second Boston team at the time), so naturally we called ourselves DorQ. We won the tournament the first two years, and Jordan and I won the party I think the second year, at least for the 'elite' teams.

Now that I have bowed out in the semis the last two years, the tournament isn't quite as fun. It also didn't help that this year we still seem to be stuck in late winter, and the weather sucked. And finally, the party wasn't as much fun, as this time they did a barbecue at the fields with long lines, and did NOT serve any alcohol. Fortunately, we were adequately supplied with our own, and the game of awesomeball was hectic and surprisingly nobody got hurt.

I love to play and detest losing in ALL forms, at all levels, no matter the expectations in a given game (and that's not just at ultimate...). I remember being the only person on my Princeton undergrad team wanting to play Titanic at the Ultimate Affair in 1987 during a rainstorm as a cold front came down from the mountains dropping the temperatures to under 40 (Granted, the fact that I was the only person left on my team that could still throw in those conditions probably helped), a game we ultimately forfeited to my chagrin and being ripshit at my team for not wanting to play, no matter that we were going to get crushed. Why else were we there? That competitive nature is probably the only reason that I have made it to where I am right now, dragging my "47 times less athletic carcass than the Chain Guys covering me in last years pre-quarters" along the way (paraphrase taken from
this link). Well, Ted Munter cutting me from Z in 1989 also helped, but that is a topic for another post, with some interesting alternate histories if he doesn't cut me.

The reason I bring this up is that I am still enjoying the game, but as my career starts asymptotically approaching the retirement axis (got to leave myself an out after all), I am finding myself even less tolerant of losing, especially because of poor play. This weekend was very frustrating in that respect. I know that DoG needs to constantly replenish itself (we may be losing up to 7 roster players), and that the best way to really see people play is at tournaments, but losing to Twisted Metal twice? Chuck Wagon? C'mon. The bar for being the Phil Mickelson of Ultimate is dropping real low (teams to NEVER beat DoG). And by no means was this just because of the tryouts. Current DoG, new DoG, it was all pretty ugly out there (just like the weather). I guess if this is the way to make me quit, it's good thinking. But I'm still not ready.

PS The year that Jordan and I won the party was AWESOME (I am probably combining memories here), but it included the following:
* The party was at some campsite somewhere, with a roofed picnic area with a large grassy area.
* There was LOTS of beer.
* Playing team knock the cup off the posts drinking game.
* Late night having a pee-off with Jordan, where we were both boosted onto the roof of the picnic building, and climbed to the apex and then basically peed down each side of the roof to see whose pee reached the end first. One of us failed completely to pee, and I think it was me, but it was definitely a highlight. And in retrospect, it wasn't very smart, because that roof was pretty high. Jordan was used to stuff like that, being an inveterate roof climber at various parties in the past, and in varyfing degrees of sobriety, but it was still quite the event.
* Staying in a tent at the campsite.
* Waking up in my tent at 10AM, croaking over to Jordan in his tent asking what time it was, finding out it was 10AM, realizing that we had a game at 10:15, and packing up the tents and making it to the fields in time. Good times.

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Thursday, May 19, 2005

Why I bought a Toyota Prius

Nathan Wicks emailed me and asked

I would like to request a blog-post entitled "Why I Own a Prius".
I realize it has nothing to do with frisbee, but still, it would be
interesting (and maybe you could piss off some environmentalists, or SUV
drivers, or both).

I just read an interesting take on hybrids at Basically, the woman talks about why she thinks hybrids are not making the inroads they might otherwise be doing, that the hybrid basically still appeals to the geek-shic, etc. And just as a prelude to the discussion, this was also my first new car EVER.

Prior to buying this car, I owned 3 used VW Jettas since 1989 ('84, '86, and '90), the first 2 of which were totalled, and the last one which I traded in for the Prius after 11 years of ownership. So until I bought the Prius, I had never sold or traded in a car that retained ANY value whatsoever, basically driving them until they dropped.

Now I assume that Wicks asked me that question because it was probably the last thing he would have expected from me, but I'm not really sure. I think he probably lumps me in the Republican camp with Parinella, but more on that later. Just for additional background,last summer I had my parents bring up my Honda Aero50 scooter which I had back in high school (!) and which was lying fallow in my parents garage. I wanted to use it for multiple reasons. During the spring, summer, and fall, I basically use it for most errands around Arlington, Cambridge, and Lexington, including going to practice when it is not raining. It gets probably 70-80 miles per gallon, and it was saving wear and tear on the other cars. And it is like windsurfing compared to sailing. If you don't get the reference, too bad.

Come January of this year, the '90 Jetta was falling apart. The heat didn't work, the battery was completely dead. I got around using a portable battery to jump my car when necessary and tried to avoid carrying the kids. The only reason we had waited this long was that the Jetta got used maybe once every couple of weeks ('96 Mercury Sable wagon was option 1, and as you can see, we aren't exactly living and driving large) My wife and I were finally discussing what kind of car we were going to get. I had assumed for the last few years that I would be replacing the Jetta with yet another in a long line of used cars. We still had a '96 Mercury Sable Wagon, which was the big car for getting the family around (4 yr old twins). We checked out used Subaru's, the new Mazda6 wagon (definitely has some power), before I started gravitating back to sedans. I'm not exactly sure where or when the transition occurred, but I started looking at new cars. My wife backed out of the process because of my indecision. I checked out the Toyota Corolla and Camry and was leaning towards the Corolla, but was still waffling in general. I inquired about the Prius and discovered that they had a 4-6 month wait list. All this research, looking at prices, mileage, etc, and realizing how long I was going to have whatever car I purchased, especially if new, made me gravitate towards the Prius. $2/gallon gas didn't hurt.

To make the Jetta last the 6 months to get a new Prius, I was going to have to spend at least $600 on repairs in the interim, which was going to be throw away money. So one Friday I was getting ready to put a $500 refundable deposit for a Prius while I still was making up my mind when I got a call from dealer that asked me if I was still looking for a Prius (I had emailed a bunch of dealers through the Internet). I said yes, got to their dealership an hour later, did a test drive (to make sure it was OK, I had already test-driven one), and then drove out off the lot 2 hours later in a new car, leaving them my beater Jetta for the incredible trade-in value of $100. (I would almost have been willing to PAY them to take it off my hands, considering the trade-in on a WORKING Jetta of that vintage was $370, not including all the problems it had). After the *$&(#*@&$ taxes and other miscellany, I wrote a check for $26000 and voila, I was the proud owner of a new Prius. Basically, the dealer forced my hand, because I'm not sure what I would have eventually have decided if I had really had to wait for 6 months to get the car, especially if something a little more drastic had happened to the Jetta. I might eventually have gone for the Corolla for probably $7G less and an EPA rating of ~31-40 mpg.

Long before I bought the Prius I had mentioned numerous times to friends that I wished gas was as expensive here as it was in Europe (~$5/gallon) because that would provide the proper incentives for customers to push carmakers to build more efficient cars (because people wouldn't buy SUVs unless they REALLY needed them), promote better and more useful public transportation, etc. I have always been a SUV hater.
On a more political bent, I am a registered independent and have tried vote based on the issues and candidates (and supporting divided government!). I probably would default to Democrats if I knew nothing about the candidates. However, the current administration has done more to rollback environmental protections than any administration in history. Also, although Republican Jim might not explicitly admit it, I'm sure that even he cringes at the environmental excesses of the Bushies. I realize that one person can't make a difference (with respect to the environmental impact of the my car), but there was definitely an environmental statement to my purchase of the Prius. While padding the pockets of Toyota (who remarkably has not taken more advantage of the demand), who deserves to be rewarded for predicting the desires of the customer as opposed to the Detroit carmakers who were focussed on near-term profitis on the high margin SUVS, I am also trying to add whatever little bit I can to the hybrid demand and incent Toyota and others to continue to develop high mileage vehicles.

As for reactions to the article I attached at the beginning, I agree with much of what she says as far as hybrid penetration. As for the styling and acceleration, hey, if you need 0-60 in under 6 seconds, then this isn't your car, but few cars are, and really, who needs to drive like that. Granted, that is a function of my age and life status at this point, because I used to drive like that a little, but grow up. I'm still very agressive when necessary, but it doesn't seem as necessary these days. Also, the Prius acceleration is great, when I need it. If you floor it, the electric motor kicks in also and has a bunch of torque, so I can beat most cars off the line. The mileage goes in the tank, but just pointing out that you have it when you need it.

And now for my reactions on the car.
* The Prius is a GREAT car. It is classified as a midsize sedan, and it definitely is. It has more room in the back for the twin car seats than the Sable Wagon. We have had no problems packing enough into the car for a wintry 5-day weekend (more and bigger clothes) for the 4 of us.
* I am not getting the 60/51 mpg that the EPA predicts, but then again, I don't think ANYBODY gets the EPA ratings. It is based on idealized conditions that are not real-world applicable. That said, the Prius gets better mileage at higher temperatures because of the following caveat: it is designed to minimize emissions, NOT maximize mileage. What this means is that the first thing it does on startup is to get the catalytic conversion up to the most efficient temperature (which is very hot). So from a cold start, the best running condition takes about 15 minutes to reach, and longer in the winter. And of course it takes more gas to keep it there in the winter. The high mileage is just a side benefit of the whole system. Another issue is that my house is in the middle of a very long hill. So to get to the places I want to go, I need to go up a long, steep hill or get home by coming up a long hill, which kills the mileage. I get some of it back coming home, but definitely NOT an even swap. I have been tracking the mileage in a spreadsheet, and lifetime we averaging 40mpg, which is probably a 65/35 mix of city and highway driving. However, the last two tanks have been 54 and 40, as the weather has been getting warmer. I would expect to average somewhere around 45 to 50 during the summer months.
* The display is very cool, giving you an instant read on your current mileage, whether you are using the battery, engine, recharging the battery, etc. Most of the car functionality is controlled from the touch-screen, including climate, radio, etc.
* I have modified my driving habits to maximize mileage, including not accelerating quite as much out of the box and various other little tweaks which do not affect how much time it takes me to get somewhere, and would help on all cars, but make that much more of a difference with the Prius.

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Thursday, May 12, 2005

1000 visits! Thanks for stopping by

I'm working on a sidebar post right now about my recent purchase of a Toyota Prius, but just wanted to give a shout out to the 1000th visitor from MIT.EDU at 10:10:54 am. 70.18.81.# and, y'all were a little late at 10:12:32 and 10:13:03 am. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and comments, and keep'em coming. Hopefully the Prius post will engender some conversation. Don't bother with the Read More!, there is nothing more to this post.

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Monday, May 09, 2005

Coed week, part V, Spirit

This will be brief, but I just wanted to cover the idea of Spirit of the Game in Coed. In one word, &$(*@&#($*, or a little less succinctly, that's a crock. Details below.

I imagine there is some impression that Coed is inherently more spirited than Open at the highest level. And I would say that is only a matter of time. As discussed and commented on at length in previous posts, the coed game right now is a pale shadow of Open in terms of skill, athleticism, and competitiveness. If Coed develops into a truly elite division, then it will carry the same spirit baggage that Open is perceived to have right now. If there is a difference, it will be because of the presence of the women on the team. And this is not because of any philosophy of coed, but at best because of the presence of women.

And I'm not even sure this will be the case. This brings up a key question, which Jim and I were discussing separately, and he mentioned some interesting points that I imagine he will incorporate into a post at some point. Is the women's game inherently cleaner than Open? And if so, why? And I'm using 'cleaner' by design, implying that there might be fewer foul calls. However, I don't mean this to imply that women are naturally more spirited. In fact, I think their notion of what is a good/correct call and what isn't is often inaccurate compared to the men's game, but I will let Jim take this up in a future post.

Basically, I predict that Coed, if it develops into a truly elite division, will be at the same spirit level as any other division.

I think that's enough for Coed, aka Mixed.

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Friday, May 06, 2005

Coed week, part IV, strategies

I have never played anything approaching the level of coed that will be played at the world games (I am assuming that the US and Canadian teams at the World Games would dstroy the current Mixed National Champs). I can only talk about what we've done at the summer league level, but I'm sure it would be applicable at most levels.

Basically, if two teams are evenly matched in terms of talent, the team that wins will be the one that is better at doing two things. 1) Taking advantage of your opponents weaknesses, and 2) Protecting/minimizing your own weaknesses.

And the most glaring weakness of most coed teams is their women players. Yes, there are women players that are better than many of the men playing out there, but as usual, I'm talking about the majority. And as you move higher up the food chain, the more pronounced the difference will become, as there is a deeper pool of good males players to pick from than there are female players. To get sufficient numbers, some coed teams have to compromise to get enough women players.

Just to share one strategy that Dennis McCarthy devised during our GE Corporate days when we were playing 5-2, we played something we called the Tea Cup (in honor of the Tea Party, whose history is described here. Basically, it was a cup and 3. Jim and Dennis would be floaters, playing short and deep deep. I would cover the best handler, the other two guys would cover the next 2 best players, and the 2 women would be in the cup. If one of the 3 people who were being covered man got the disk, their defender would mark and the two women would play middle middle and off mark, in a cup. If one of the undefended people got the disk, then one of the women would take the mark and force into the other one, a 2 person cup. This defense was phenomenally effective in its day.

Depending on the talent of your men and women, another key tactic is when to go 3-4 (men to women). This can be for 2 reasons. You have a huge advantage in female talent compared to the other team, so why not take advantage of it. Or, the converse, you are top-heavy in male talent, with 3 superstuds, and you don't want to give the other team another guy to help out on D.

Actually, the main reason for this post was to unveil the Tea Cup. The rest of this is just idle speculation, but I would be interested to see what other people think are key coed strategies that do not apply to unisex ultimate.

Coed week, part V, Spirit (if I can think of enough for this topic)

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Thursday, May 05, 2005

Coed week, part III, summer league

Now for the coed that I like:

Before you get the impression that I am a complete coed hater, I have been playing some form of coed for the last 15 years. And like I mentioned before, it is great for what it is. An opportunity to socialize with your friends and members of the opposite sex. When I first started playing coed, it was in the Boston Corporate League, and it was a team centered at General Electic Aircraft Engines in Lynn, where Jim Parinella and I were working at the time. Since we were also hanging out with Dennis McCarthy and he naturally didn't have a job, we invited him to play with us. In the early days, the league was 6-1 because of the paucity of women players.

After 8 years, 2 championships, and only 3 years of missing the semifinals (and with most of us already having moved on to other jobs), we dissolved the team and joined up with Lincoln Tech. That year we kept up the cycle of winning every 3 years, including winning the 5-2, 4-3 unification bout against the Forch's stacked Brownie Inferno after persuading them to play us even though we had been drinking heavily for the previous 2 hours while heckling them in their 4-3 final (they didn't want us to hurt them through drunken play).

After a few years of Tech, and watching that team slowly get old and wither away, we merged with another team, CUD, and became SwillMillGrill, which has to be by far the oldest team by average age in the league, and probably has a roster of like 40, but we are lucky to get 10 people to every game. And there are often more children than adults at the game. Like I said, we are very old.

When we played with GE, it was the Jim, Dennis, and Al show, to the extent that in one game, we beat the Scotty 'Kid' Runkel-led Puffins 6 against 7. Their cheer at the end of the game was "They beat us with 6, or was it 3, great game GE". Ahhhh, those were heady days. However, for all that, our women scored more goals than the other team's women in almost every game.

Now with Swill, we are playing 4-3 and having fun swilling (well, I hate losing at any level!), milling (we have more injured or non-players come out to these games then we have subs, usually), and grilling (post-game beers and the portable grill).

Back in the early 90's the corporate league scene was small but growing. Then it developed into 3 divisions for the end of season tournament. Now it is an 80-team league. So in terms of growth, in Boston at least, coed is where its at. But again, while there are certain teams that try and put together stacked squads and try and win it all, it is far more of a 'thing to do during the summer.' Most of these players will NOT play in the coed series in the fall. Which is fine, as long as the UPA can get dues out of these players anyway...

I'm not sure what point I'm trying to make here, except that at the ground level, there is lots of coed, and probably more than the single-sex leagues (probably combined), but that doesn't mean that coed should get the billing it does. Coed works because of the social aspect. Also, it would be incredibly frustrating to be a beginner female player and playing with a team of other low-level players. You think even good women's ultimate can be a ding-fest right now, imagine how quickly the newbie women would give up.

That's all the blather I can do right now.

Next: Coed week, part IV, Strategies

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Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Coed week, part II, Nationals

Continuing to kvetch, I have a problem with the coed nationals being at the same time and location as regular nationals. I don't think there is a question anymore of trying to build coed, because there are a tremendous number of coed teams out there. This has made Nationals harder to host because of the number of fields required. How many sites are there that have the 24 or more fields in reasonable proximity to each other that will gladly accept ultimate players?

Because of the paucity of masters teams, it still makes sense to make them part of nationals because you won't get the participation otherwise (assuming this is a sector that people want to maintain).

If you split off coed, the next question is what purpose do you want Coed Nationals to serve?

If you really want to showcase coed, let the elite players play both. And since we don't have the resources, time, or stamina to host tournaments where people can play both (unlike tennis where you'll find competitors at Wimbledon and the US open playing both at times, although note that you never hear the results of mixed doubles anymore, I actually had to look it up on their websites to see if they still played mixed doubles) and no one is going to be able to practice with both squads through a season, then move the coed nationals to the the end of June. The Labor Day version still wasn't good enough, because people still had to pick, and if they picked open, they weren't practicing coed and the quality suffered. The way it is set up now, coed consists of the players that can't make the time commitment to play elite, or can't make the elite teams, and this is their only chance of going to the show.

If you want to grow the game, then keep it the way it is, with Nationals at the same time, but preferably somewhere else. If you have it on a different weekend, you'll have cherry pickers that will do both. The one time it was hosted during Labor Day was the worst of both worlds. You still had some open players playing, and the season was ill-defined.

So, grow the game, or have coed be the best it can be. Tough question.

My answer? Because I don't want it played at the same site as the Open and Womens, and I still don't have a tremendous amount of respect for the game at that level, use it to grow the game and have it during the fall, but at another site. I don't refer to it as co-dead for nothing...

Next: Coed, Summer Leagues

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Monday, May 02, 2005

Coed week, part I, the World Games

I'd like to spend some time discussing coed ultimate. I got the idea from some comments that Jim and Luke made over here, and I thought it merited its own post. Now, despite what it may seem, I actually have no general objections to coed. I have played Boston Corporate and/or Summer League in one form or another since 1989, starting with 6-1, then 5-2 and most recently migrating to 4-3. It's great for what it is, a way for friends to get together and hang out (for many, most importantly with members of the opposite sex). However, for coed to be anywhere near the same level of billing as Open or Womens is ludicrous, and the fact that the World Games are Coed is putting our worst foot forward. Granted, I don't really feel the World Games will popularize the sport considering how effective it has been at making korfball a household name, but why not showcase the sport at its best? And right now that means Open.

Coed has been great at expanding the game. For those areas that do not have enough women to be able to support women-only teams, at least this gives them an opportunity to play. But coed is a pale substitute for open. As Jim said, "I would have preferred either men's or women's play to coed, but that was someone else's decision. Given that FloJo never played, there is just such a difference in speed that it makes for an awkward game. You can say that it adds strategy, but is it an improvement to add the strategy "must not throw long to a woman with a man within 15 yards of her"? (Of course, there are slow guys, fast women, etc., but this is the general rule.)"

I'm assuming they were held to a maximum number of players when deciding how to handle the World Games and that the decision was made to be inclusive and thus coed. I just have problems with Coed representing the sport. Men and women do not belong on the same playing field at the highest level of ultimate. They don't in any other sport, and they don't in ours. What guys out there have had to completely adjust their throws when throwing to the women on their team to make it catchable? Yes, I know you have to do it even in unisex games based on your receiver, but c'mon, you know what I'm talking about. And ascribing this to tactics or strategy just doesn't cut it.

When you have a high school team (Amherst High in Western Mass.) competing and sometimes beating the defending Women's National Champions in a scrimmage (Lady Godiva) you know the women's game has not arrived yet. It hasn't in any other sport, and it hasn't here. Hey, I'm the first to hope that the exploding presence of women in sports will continue (thanks to Title IX). And comparing the top women's athletes today to those of even 10 years ago isn't even close. But they aren't there yet.

Hell, like Luke says, alternate men and women every time. But don't elevate an unnatural mix to this level. We're playing Ultimate, not Stratego (tm).

Next: Coed Nationals

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