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The Hizzle of T-Fizzle <br /> <b>Deprecated</b>: preg_replace(): The /e modifier is deprecated, use preg_replace_callback instead in <b>/home/jzero/public_html/troy/wpblog/wp-includes/formatting.php</b> on line <b>82</b><br /> » Curling

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Curling’ Category

The Linux Clock Is Ticking…plus…Content?!

Monday, April 14th, 2008

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Faithful readers will recall that over a year ago when my computer went belly-up, I decided it was time to switch to linux full time since I had a working linux box.  A few months ago, I also tried to run linux on my work laptop figuring I could use a VM for anything that *had* to run in Windows.  I had to abandon this effort because my on-board wireless simply would not work under Ubuntu.  My mantra for linux has been “It’s not ready for prime time.”  And it’s still not.

But I have good news: It’s about ready for Final Jeopardy or perhaps the beginning of Wheel Of Fortune (here in Phillyland, Jeopardy runs at 7PM and Wheel runs at 7:30 - just shy of the elusive 8PM start of prime time.

I had been using CentOS mainly because I’d been using it at work so at least had some familiarity with it.  Once I got through the somewhat ridiculous hurdles involved with setting the display resolution, getting wireless working and getting my printer going, I found that it was working passably and I only REALLY had to launch the Windows VM to access my MP3 player and print to my HiTi photo printer.  But there were some tasks that I simply hadn’t been able to master to my satisfaction such as ripping CDs and even playing MP3s.  Every so often I would feel like perhaps it was my lucky to try my hand at some of these…and then spent a few frustrated hours accomplishing nothing.

Recently, I started to think the perhaps the problem wasn’t so much that linux is not ready for prime time (which is still true), but more that CentOS is based on Red Hat Enterprise Linux and neither of these products was intended to be used as a “workstation” OS - they were supposed to be server OSes!  As a result, there is not great support in the major software repositories for things like MP3 players.  You end up with a lot of dependency problems and trying to compile from source isn’t much easier.

So with the release of the new “Hardy Huron” version of Ubuntu imminent, I decided that now might be a good time to give the prior version, “Gutsy Gibbon” a shot.  And it’s close…so close to prime time.  Many pieces of it really did “just work.”  In CentOS my audio was barely audible.  I thought it was my speakers, but Ubuntu came pre-loaded with drivers and a mixer that allows me to actually increase the volume to an audible level.  The display came with the correct resolution automatically.  Wireless is still fairly weak.  In my case, the driver auto-detected just fine, but using the built-in network-manager app I could not connect at all and it would lock the card up.  But if I configure my wireless settings manually, it works fine.  Since this is a non-portable computer, it’s not even a hassle.  Getting my printer working was a tiny bit sketchy, but because of the large userbase for Ubuntu, it was fairly easy to figure out how to install it.  At this point, I’m pretty much where I was with CentOS…but it was much less frustrating.  My only complaint right now is that it keeps crashing randomly, but this could be a variety of things.  Also, my KVM switch causes all sorts of strange behavior from the mouse.

But things are progressing nicely for linux and Ubuntu.  In fact, at this point if you don’t have any incompatible hardware, I might even go so far as to say that if you had a friend or relative that didn’t have any non-linux specific needs and isn’t going to poke around too much and screw something up, you could probably give them an Ubuntu machine and they’d be pretty satisfied!  The clock is ticking towards prime time, and I’m looking forward to seeing what Hardy Huron (or is it Heron?) has to offer.  Hopefully it’s a simple upgrade, too!

This upgrade also forced me to start catching up on my picture updates.  I had no really sensible way to back up my data for the re-install, so I had to use my camera to back everything up to SD-card (note to self: get an SD reader).  In restoring my data, I also loaded a stack of pics to the PC that had languished on my camera for many months, and I noticed that Ubuntu comes pre-loaded with something called “F-Spot” which is a photo-management program.

I never felt the need to have something like Picasa, but since it was there I figured I would at least give it a try…and let me tell you…I love it!  It gives you an intuitive way to browse and sort your pictures, offers some light-weight editing right in the UI and interfaces directly with GIMP for heavier editing AND it automatically preserves the original so that I no longer have to do this myself.  In fact, I used to upload the originals, make a new copy of each original, then edit those copies and sort them into various folders for pictures that would be published, rejected, etc.  Now I can simply tag them accordingly in F-Spot and away I go.  You can also tag them with people, places, etc, so in just a click I can see all the pics of curling, my dog, or both!  Oh, and it also has a handy plugin to upload directly to both my gallery here AND to Facebook!

So inspired was I by F-Spot that I immediately began uploading pictures.  Those of you on Facebook should note that everything posted on Facebook will also be posted here, but not the reverse.  Basically if the subject matter does not involve Facebook friends, I will just post them here.

Here we go…there may be commentary posted later on for some of these sets.  Clicking the pic will take you to the corresponding gallery.

Our 2008 Saint Patrick’s Day party

The Jeff Harris Curlathon…a benefit for our friend who suffered a spinal cord injury last Summer.  You might see a couple local legends in this gallery.

A rugby game…a few years ago my brother-in-law (pictured here) spotted a sign that read “Give Blood…Play Rugby” and he has been playing ever since for Whitehorse Rugby Football Club.

There are still some curling posts to come…and even more pics.

Stay tuned!

Curling Season 2 - It’s That Time Of Year Again!

Monday, November 12th, 2007

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Wow…it took me so long to finish writing about Berlin that it’s already curling season again. Where did the Summer go?

Last week kicked off the new curling season. This year I have teamed up with 3 other novice guys to make a go at upsetting some of the more experienced people in the men’s league and perhaps taking a trip to the Dykes which is a major men’s novice bonspiel for the Grand National Curling Club - the sanctioning body for the northeastern US.

Before we could begin, I helped out making the ice. Previously not a lot of club members knew how to build or maintain the ice, so the club president has been working to get more people educated. Building the ice is pretty much what you would expect it to be. You squirt water on the ice. You do it in thin layers, building up bit by bit. Every so often you run the scraper over it to level the ice and hopefully cut off any deformities. I also was involved with laying the 4-foot guidelines and the 50th Anniversary Logo, also a simple process - the guidelines are pieces of yarn stretched tightly and “glued” down by spraying water on them. The logo is just printed on plain paper, sprayed with water and flattened out with a paint roller. There was also a pebbling and scraping class. There was some belief last season that imperfections in the ice were created in part by inconsistent pebbling techniques so we are hoping to alleviate that by actually teaching people a “standard” (if not entirely proper) method of pebbling.

Once the ice was completed but prior to the “official” opening of the club, I was able to join the other members of my team for a practice session. It was still very warm outside and very humid inside. There was literally water running down the walls as it condensed! The air seemed so thick that after just sliding 5 or 6 times without even pushing a stone, I was already huffing and puffing! I did some slides at varying speeds with no stones, then another 10 or so slides pushing a stone but not releasing it at varying speeds. Then I started to throw some stones down to the other end. The ice was very slow and it took a lot of force just to get stones over the hog line. While I was doing this, the remainder of my team and a few others were playing a mini-game and had just finished up so skip Ken came over to call some shots. By the time I had thrown 6 stones, Eric and Vince joined me and we threw our first two stones as a rink.

We corralled all the stones on one end and decided to play an end or two against ourselves. I forgot how much work curling was and I was beat after about 40 minutes of this. The ice conditions were lousy but we had a good time and the session was VERY beneficial for getting some of the cobwebs out.

Over the ensuing weekend, Ken, Eric and Vince joined forces with another club member to play at the Inaugural Bonspiel in Potomac. They had a great run and ended up as the runners up in the main event! This was a very encouraging way to start the season…congrats you guys!

A few days later it was time for our season opener. On the original slate, I was set to play lead with Eric second and Vince on Vice. It was rainy last Wednesday, so it took me a long time to get from work to the club. I ran in, changed and ran out to the ice just in time for the first stone and to catch the news that we were going to flipflop my position and Vince’s since Vince and Eric felt really solid as a front end. Fair enough…I don’t mind skipping, although I have to admit I hadn’t given much thought to curling strategy in awhile and I’ve never played alongside Ken, so it was a bit of a shock to stand in the house at the end of the first end and try to recall all of the hours I had spent with experienced skips over the last season learning the ins and outs of curling strategy.

The game itself was a little bit rough.  We took the first end, lost one on the second end and then things went downhill when we gave up 3 or 4 in the third.  The ice was heavy at first and then the center alley sped up while just outside this remained frosty and very heavy.  Judging weights was very hard and clocking the shots yielded inconsistent results between ends.  After the third end we just couldn’t dig ourselves back up. 

The second game of the week was the Beginner’s League opener.  Our team consists of X, Eric (same as above) and Jay.  We were playing against our teammates and occasional arch-rivals Mike and Mary.  This was a better outing for me than the previous game.  It was X’s first time on the ice since last year and she didn’t feel all that comfortable although she was making decent shots.  The weather was a little colder and the ice was a little more “normal.” 

The second game was very close with both teams exchanging aces and deuces until about the 5th end when a couple of slipups allowed the other team to score 4 and take a 3 point lead.  We managed to take the next 2 ends to claw our way back to a one-point deficit going into the last end with no hammer.  It was fairly late on Thursday night and X was in favor of quitting but fortunately Eric is not the type to quit especially when down by only one point.  Things were not looking good for us through the end…the other team had 2 stones solidly buried, but a mistake after my first stone left an opening.  Eric called for a takeout on the visible stone.  I have been working on throwing up-weight without losing my balance and had been doing well on takeouts this game.  This throw was no exception - the stone went fast and straight, right into the visible stone which careened sidelong into the other stone for a game-saving double takeout.  We were not out of the woods yet, but we at least had a chance.  Eric managed to sneak a second stone into the house and after a couple of misses from the opposition we realized we had managed to pull out a win.  Yay.

Saturday we kicked off the mixed league.  The weather was very warm again.  We ran into some trouble when we all arrived at the club in time for the game only to find that no one had a key!  Someone went home to get one and we started about 1/2 hour late.  I am lead on this team and I was beginning to hit my stride…even on the slow ice I was doing a decent job on the guard shots and I was beginning to grow some accuracy in gauging when to sweep.  Unfortunately we got caught off-guard by some strange ice conditions and just couldn’t catch a break.  It was a fairly close match but they got us in the end.

Previous to the Novice game we mustered up the ranks of CPK to plot our <s>Bonspiel Schedule</s> path of destruction for the year.  Looks like we will be able to make it to two or three “travel” ’spiels plus MACA Friendlies and maybe some of the in-house events in Philly.  I am hoping we can improve our standing by perhaps winning some matches, although I would at least settle for continuing our record of having never been shut out in a tournament :-)

A few more matches played since I started this post - another loss in the men’s league although we played pretty well, and a loss and a tie in Mixed.  Towards the end of the last season, I had a weekend where I played maybe 5 games between league play and the MACA Friendly at Potomac.  That was basically the peak of the season and I had some banner games.  Well in the recent mixed game, I felt about as I did during that peak stretch last season - I think it’s going to be a really fun season.

I’ve also decided to start keeping some stats to help me spot trends in my play like maybe I always screw up out turn draws, or I think I’m doing pretty well but looking back objectively I see that really I just get lucky a lot.  I’ve tossed a notebook in my pocket and am trying to note what shot was called and what I actually ended up throwing.  Hopefully it’s useful.  I’ll post them up here so that stat-head Mike can enjoy them.

Speaking of stats, I have been collecting driving stats for the past few months but I didn’t want to interrupt my Germany tale.  They should be up someday.

Finally, the Harvest Bonspiel is this weekend (Thurs - Sun, 11/15 - 11/18).  It is the club’s premier bonspiel, an invitational mixed format featuring players from as far away as Scotland and Seattle.  Don’t quote me on this, but I believe they don’t mind visitors coming to watch. 

Nice Hat, Eric.

Monday, May 7th, 2007

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Congrats, Eric and Ken for being named “Rookies Of The Year.” This is Eric wearing the hat at the membership meeting/banquet this weekend. Ken wasn’t able to come, so he was spared the risk of having his pic splashed here for all the world to see….if they only knew I was here writing.

If you thought I threw a lot of stones this winter, these guys easily threw twice as many, and they’ve got the skills to prove it. And they’re all around fun guys. We all had the pleasure of learning the ropes together and they make part of a core group of newbies that all had a lot of fun together.

The hat is part of a goofy club tradition. It consists of a cheap blue hard hat and each recipient adds a trinket to it. Word on the street is they are supposed to wear it when they play. Who gets to wear it when they both play at the same time? Only time will tell.

It was great to see everyone, but it made me realize how much I miss playing already!

Other weekend highlights were Spiderman 3 and the CCCB concert. To date, flames have still not come from Lee’s tuba, but we remain ever hopeful.

Last game.

Monday, March 26th, 2007

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Played my last game of the curling season last night.  There will be more recap later, but we won our last game, and my last stone was a very satisfying double takeout.

Throwing that last stone was about as bad as riding the last wave of the Summer in.

Bonspiel Shenanigans

Saturday, February 10th, 2007

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Here’s how it went down:

Thursday, Mike and Mary picked us up and we set out for the Schenectady Curling Club to participate in their Centenniel bonspiel.  Traffic was not bad at all and we got to the hotel around 7PM and had a couple of hours before our first match at 10:15PM.  Due to the number of teams and the Centennial Gala Saturday night, they had to schedule some late games.  I think there were even some midnight matches.  We grabbed some dinner, suited up and drove out to the club.

We have never been in another curling club, so it was quite interesting to see all of the differences.  I have heard that Philadelphia has a pretty large warm room.  If that’s the case, Schenectady’s warm room…their whole facility really…is huge.  Although I’ve heard it’s still small compared to some of the Canadian clubs.  They’ve got a cavernous ice shed with 4 sheets, and I think the enormity of the room is accentuated by the high ceiling.  There are support columns running between the middle sheets with cool floating benches on them.  The walls are adorned with crests from other clubs, which look really neat.  The warm room itself has lots of space and seating and they have a large and well-stocked bar.  The locker rooms are decent and have bathrooms built-in.  The long history of the club is evident with lots of pictures and pins and trophies displayed all around the warm room.  It’s really neat to look around at old pictures of guys playing on a frozen Mohawk River.

We picked up a folder with some general information, schedule, etc and we were quickly tracked down by the club president who spent the entire weekend going non-stop.  She really did a great job.  She handed us nametags and souvenir centennial pins and then asked us if we had met our opponents yet.  When we said no, she said she would introduce us.  She followed “They’re really nice people” with the 5 words we never want to hear: “They just arrived from Montreal.”  Ugh.

But we found them to be a great group of people.  Sonny and Randy and Andrea were very talkative and loved to laugh.  Sonny’s SO had not arrived yet, so they had a sub from the club who took them in stride, but he was more serious.  This was probably the most “fun” game of curling I’ve played.  I always have fun curling, but there is usually limited banter at the front end and very little banter at the back end due to everyone being too busy playing.  Sonny finds time to banter.  Sonny can call shots, communicate with the sweepers and carry on a conversation all at once.  As the score became more and more lopsided, he would be standing behind me as our stones came in going “Sweep!  Troy!  Tell them to sweep!  SWEEP!”  He offered a lot of great strategic advice, even at the cost of a few points.  We pulled the plug after 6 ends since it was close to midnight.  I usually ask the other skip if they mind playing the last ends and finish up even though there is no hope of winning, but we felt it was time to hit the bar.  We spent longer than we should have chatting, but eventually went back and got some sleep for our match at 10AM the next day.  The final score was something like 10 - 3.

Our second match was against, I believe, a hybrid team with 2 players from Dalewood and 2 from either Schenectady or Albany.  You may remember a post on “How Does The Skip Signal An Out Turn?” in which I mentioned not being sure if the signal was universal.  It is not - while it seems like most clubs do it the same way it’s taught at Philly, the clubs in the Albany region do it backwards.  One theory I heard was that there are a lot of GE engineers in the area who probably said “Why do we point to thrower’s left when we want the stone to go to the thrower’s right?”  The skip would occasionally say “Oops!  Wrong handle…” and switch arms.  He seemed like a well-seasoned skip so I thought it was odd that he would make this mistake until I realized that he was trying to accommodate his teammates that are used to the backwards signals!

We played better this game, scoring more, scoring sooner, and letting up less points.  In fact I don’t think we let up more than 2 or 3 in any one end.  They had a far more conservative strategy that matches mine - get one or two good shot rocks and then guard them, which contributed at least in part to less “big” ends.  Sonny was throwing on the adjacent sheet and would occasionally throw me a grin or a wisecrack.  At one point I heard him yelling “Sweep!  Sweep!” and actually looked over to see if he was talking to me or his own team :-)  We played all 8 ends, and our opponents “threw through” on the last end.  I have mixed emotions about this tactic.  On the one hand, they are “wasting” their stones becuase they are so far ahead that it doesn’t matter.  On the other hand, they are driving the final nails in the coffin, because they intend to take out every stone you leave in the house meaning you won’t close the sizable gap.  More on this later.  In the end, we squeezed out 2 extra points due to a missed takeout on our opponents’ part and some good shots after that.  Final score was 9 - 4 or something.

After the match, we spent some time with the other team, as is the custom, and the skip Doug offered to sit down with us for a few minutes to offer some pointers.  Naturally, we accepted his offer, and he gave us some new tips and reiterated some we’d heard from our mentors back home.  One of the most notable for me was that I give too much ice.  That is to say I overestimate how far the stone will curl.  I resolved myself to watch the ice more closely in the next game.

A brief trip back to the hotel for a nap, and we returned to the club for what we hoped would NOT be our final game.  Because of the gala and the number of teams losting 3 in a row would also result in us being eliminated from the tournament by Friday, crappy because A)we were staying there until Sunday and B)we chose Schenectady in part because then Mary’s father could come watch, but would likely not be able to make a game on Friday.

We got to work curling.  This team was probably the least friendly we had met.  Not that they were mean or anything, but they had their “game faces” on and hardly said a word that was not directly related to the game.  This was probably our best curling of the weekend and we kept things pretty close until some miscues allowed them to score a multi-point end and get ahead of us on the scoreboard.  One of the highlights of this match was attempting a couple of “hit and rolls.”  It’s an advanced shot that has been available to us at various points, but never seemed worth the risk.  During one end the opposition was gearing up for 4 or 5 points.  The center approach was fairly crowded, but there were 2 counters on either side around the inside of the 12′ circle.  In a hit and roll, you try to strike the inside of the target rock which moves the target rock and causes the thrown rock to “roll” towards the center, ideally staying in play, behind cover.

Since we stood to lose a lot and there didn’t seem any good way to do a straight draw, tap or takeout, Mike and I decided to give the hit and roll a shot.  It was really a crapshoot - since I’ve never tried it, had no idea what weight to use and as a result could only guess what kind of ice to take.  So we fudged the broom placement and I gave it a toss.  I threw it heavy because I felt that removing the opponent’s rock was more important than the possibility of leaving one of mine in.

Well, it kinda worked!  Which was cool, because I fully expected it to miss completely.  But the line was pretty good for the weight that I chose, and my stone struck at the correct angle and drove the target stone right out.  I think my shooter even stayed in play after jamming on another rock.  Tried it again on the other side for the next stone, with pretty much the same result - removed their stone but mine flew out, too.  Less weight needed on the hit and roll, I see.  It was really cool to try those shots and not have them completely miss.  We cut them down from 4 or 5 to only 2 or 3.

After the 6th end, things were getting ugly.  We did manage to pick up a couple in the 6th, but were still down by 6 going into the 7th.  We discussed quitting, but since it was pretty clear we weren’t playing any more after this, I decided we might as well throw the last 2 ends just so we can get our money’s worth.  The 7th end was uneventful.  They increased their lead to 9.  The 8th end was awful. 

Here’s where I go back to throwing through: we were mathematically incapable of wining the game (you can’t score more than 8 in a single end).  Normally we would quit, but since we had decided to “get our money’s worth,” we still played.  Most teams would throw through.  These guys played it straight.  On the one hand they were letting us play a normal end instead of forcing us to just play draws while they played takeouts.  It even gave us a chance to narrow the final margin.  On the other hand, it gives them an opportunity to clobber us even further since they could get more points as well.

And more points they got.  A missed takeout on our part allowed them to start stacking stones up in the house, and it was becoming harder and harder to come up with a way to minimize the damage.  5 stones stacked up in a bunch, right over the button.  On multiple occasions we discussed just winging a stone at full force into the bunch, but this never seemed like the best option; there was always something that - if it worked - would be more useful.  The onslaught slackened when they underthrew a stone and left it short of the house, but somehow an errant draw on our part tapped their stone into the rings.  They were gearing up for an 8-ender.

And 8-ender is often likened to a hole-in-one in golf.  It’s really hard to achieve, and it doesn’t happen very often.  It’s pretty hard to not have even ONE of your opponent’s stones counting but still have all of your stones in the house.  A crowd was gathering.  People were really rooting for the other team to pull this off.  I considered shaking hands and walking away.  It seemed completely disingenuous for the other team, going into basically an “exhibition end,” to attempt to bring this to fruition even if they didn’t set out to get 8 when the end began.  It seemed even more disingenuous to try it against a team of utter noobs.  The Spirit Of Curling says “Curlers play to win but never to humble their opponents.”  I’d have to say that winning by a margin of 17 AND achieving an 8-ender against noobs would definitely fall under the “humble their opponents” heading.

But I felt that it was equally disingenuous for me, after Ahab-esquely deciding to keep playing despite it not being possible to win, to allow the other team to get within realistic reach of an 8-ender and then just quit and walk away with 4 stones left.  As a “good sport,” I simply could not allow myself to not let them try to complete the task even if I felt that them attempting to do so was poor sportsmanship in itself.  My first shot was a blur.  The second shot, though, gracefully slid into the side of the pack, just off the edge of the 4-foot circle.  The 8-ender was cut to 3.  The crisis was averted.  All was right with the world.  Actually, even if I had blown the shot they may not have had 8 - we had one stone in the rings that may have been close enough to keep them to 7, but the lovely parting shot made it a certainty and also reduced the embarassment.

So you see, if they had thrown through, we would not have even gotten into that kind of situation.  They gave us an opportunity to close the gap, but in doing so managed  to almost really kill us.  So I’m still a bit on the fence about throwing through.

Fortunately, Mary’s father and his wife made it out in time to see most of the match which was pretty awesome.  They chatted with us for awhile, then we sat down for a quick drink with our opponents, where we found them to be far more affable than they let on with their on-ice personas.  They are all business on the ice, but it ends there.  Unfortunately, we couldn’t stick around long because we had to get ready for dinner.

This is cool:  rather than a big chaotic dinner on Friday, groups of 3 or 4 teams were split up and assigned to club member’s home for dinner.  It was a really nice change of pace and it gave us an opportunity to get to know some more people in a quiet place instead of in the din of a crowded warm room.  We even met a guy who studied at Ursinus and even went to the Philadelphia CC open house before he moved to the Albany area for grad school!

After dinner we headed back to the hotel to shower and change.  Friday night’s activities included a live band, cheap club drinks and everyone dressing according to their “theme decade.”  We were the 1980s (which is, of course, the origin of the name Curling Patch Kids) and the girls went dressed up in their finest neon wrist warmers and crimped side pony tails.  Another girl named Shawna…or perhaps Shauna…we made friends with was also in her 80s finery.  X also observed that some curling-related water colors in the club vestibule were actually being sold, but all the cool ones had already been purchased.  They were an amazing price for original works.  We were, however, able to get a print for $10 which is not bad in itself.  We liked it because the picture is very obviously of the Schenectady club.  It’s even a sheet that we played on.  After 2 games that day, we weren’t too energetic.  Also, while the band was very good, they just weren’t a dancing band.  So we didn’t stay too late and headed back to the hotel.

Our elimination from the tournament bracket didn’t work out too badly, as it gave us some time to visit Mary’s family.  We went to her grandparents’ house where we were fortunate enough to run into 4 of Mary’s 5 uncles.  One of them looks remarkably like Edward James Olmos.  In true Italian Grandmother form, we were not allowed to leave without eating SOMETHING, so we had some snacks.  I also had some Vichy Water which is a carbonated mineral water that is unique to the Saratoga area.  There are other things called Vichy Water, but this is a regional thing.  I liked it, but I think it was flat;  I resolved to get a fresh bottle.

From the grandparents’ house we went to meet Mary’s dad/stepmother at Applebee’s where - wonder of wonders - we just happened to bump into the missing uncle from earlier!  It’s a rare occasion to catch all of the brothers in one weekend, but somehow we managed to pull it off.  Applebees has always been my preferred choice among the “chotchki” restaurants and they had a couple new burgers including some Italian deal with pesto sauce on Focaccia bread with garlic-parmesan fries that are a lot like The Beef’s continental fries.  It was really good.  And cheap.  Cheap is good.  After catching up and eating, we stopped by a Target so the girls could pick up some random items, then it was back to the hotel to relax awhile and then get ready for the gala.

For the glorious 100th anniversary, there was a gala at the nearby Edison Club of which it seems many of the curlers are also members.  The party was very nice.  They had a live band that played a vast range of music from big band standards to modern hits, and the food was very good.  Drinks were a little bit pricey, especially for a crowd that is used to prices back at the curling club.  I think that kept things a little bit in check.  We arrived a little bit late and almost had to sit at a table by ourselves.  Fortunately, a couple of Schenectady players took pity and joined us and we had a good time getting to know them. We also got to catch up with Sonny and his team and Shawna and see how things were going for them.  Sonny was headed to the championships.  At least when we lose, we lose to good teams!

During the gala we learned that by some tradition, the lead of the team is supposed to carry all the brooms for the rest of the team!  We now have a new running joke that the lead (currently Mary) has to do all of the grunt work no one else wants.  :-)

The next day we packed up and checked out.  In the parking lot, Doug chided Mike for buying a car that was not curler-friendly (you can slide the brooms in alongside the seats).  There was breakfast at the club, followed by the championship rounds and of course, bagpipes and shots of Drambuie.  Mary picked up a cool pin by taking some shirts to deliver to Rich and Jo from Stephanie Torta of Little Fish Designs who did the marketing materials for this bonspiel (as well as lots of other curling-related things).  We stayed for about half of the championship rounds, and left around noon so we could get back home and have some time to unwind before “The Big Game,” (don’t want the NFL to come after me for using their name!).  I did get another bottle of Vichy Water, and it’s much better when it’s fresh and cold.  I’d probably keep it in if it was easy to get here.

If nothing else, me made a lot of new friends.  Our CPK pins were a big hit.  We talked about trying to make it to another bonspiel before the end of the season, but with our busy schedules, it does not look likely.  Hopefully we can make it to a summer bonspiel!

One last note: If you go to a ’spiel, please bring pins to trade!  I really like this tradition.  I’ve collected pins from places I’ve gone my entire life, so there is a special place in my heart for pins.  Even if you aren’t a collector, it’s really cool to have a sort of record of all of the many people you have played with from all over the place. 

Good Gravy! It’s A Streak!

Monday, January 29th, 2007

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9-3 after 7 ends: CPK manages a second straight victory!  We were playing against a full 4-person roster this time, and luck was on our side.  Sure, we played pretty well, but it seems like there are things that can happen on the ice that you never really consider.  For instance, in the first end I threw a shot wide onto a ridge.  That stone smacked into a corner guard and landed smack on the button.  Some games you never get these lucky breaks, some games they all fall your way.

As I said once before, the final score can be deceiving.  This looks like a blowout only because we stole one 5-point end.  In a later end the other team was setting up to take 5 or 6 of their own.  We had a choice of trying to freeze to their shot rock (freeze meaning to put our rock right next to theirs, making it pretty much impossible to remove) or just trying to bury one under cover off to the side.  The freeze is a much tougher shot with potentially disastrous results - too hard and you’ll bump the target stone and leave enough of a gap to be chipped out.  Too soft and you still leave enough of a gap to be chipped out.  So we tried the draw and ended up throwing the freeze anyway.  There was enough space that if the other team got the hit just right, they could blow us out but we were fortunate that our stone stuck around and didn’t move too much.  Instead of getting 5 points they got just 1.

I picked up some nice pearls of wisdom after the match about guarding more.  I have a habit of hesitating to guard a single point.  My instinct is that I should have at least 2 good, solid counters before I try to protect them.  Unless my lone counter is way out in the open. But Mike M. pointed out that when you don’t have the hammer, and especially against a stronger team (one that does well on takeouts), leaving a point unguarded in the hopes of getting more points is likely to cost you all the points in the long run.  Once we had a long lead, I guarded a lot more singles, but early in the game I left some open where if this were not beginners league they probably would have been long gone.

So to my playbook of taps, draws and the occasional takeout, I will add guards.

And our streak?  It will end in the bonspiel this weekend, but it was fun while it lasted.

Cracked Bell Pics - The Gallery Lives

Wednesday, January 24th, 2007

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The need to provide pics to the editors of the PCC newsletter provided the impetus for a few things - resurrecting the Gallery that fell to pieces, trying out the cool SD Card Reader/Thumb Drive (has a cover so you can lock an SD Card in and use it like a thumb drive) and popping in the 2GB SD Card I got for my camera awhile ago but had not yet installed.

Getting Gallery2 back was super-easy since my new host has some sort of automated installation gizmo for commonly used web apps called Fantastico that pretty much provided one-click installation.  I still have some tweaking to do to make the Gallery a little easier to view, but it is at least functional for the time being.

I found photographing curling in action to be somewhat akin to shooting concerts - 2 people sweeping a stone pretty much look the same no matter what. 

You have to instead look for more unique moments like Derek blowing his brains out:


Or Derek gleefully carrying a tray of Drambuie:


Or a father spending the weekend curling with 4 of his 5 daughters.  2 sets of twins, by the way.  These are the people that clobbered us in the first game:


And, for posterity, the Potomac team that whipped us in the second game:


These ar unretouched/uncropped, so I may add some edited ones later on.  Until then click the pic below or head over to the Gallery to see them all.


01/21/07 - Mark This Date!

Monday, January 22nd, 2007

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After 7 grueling ends, CPK have eked out their first victory.  We went 9 - 4.  A 5-point margin probably sounds like more than an “eked” victory, but the devil is in the details.

Our odyssey began with a soul-crushing 16+ - 1 defeat in the Mixed League.  16+ because the scoreboard only goes up to 16.  I think they actually got 18 or 19, but at that point everyone stopped counting.  The weekend prior, there was a technique clinic at Nutmeg Curling Club run by one Ray Turnbull.  X and I had considered going but then decided to skip it.  But another club member went and sent along some notes, which I had begun to put into practice as a sub on Thursday.  By Saturday, I felt like the new tips were really working well and greatly improved my play to the point that everyone there noticed.  I also tweaked the way I hold the broom.  I think I was overly concerned about feeling a “connection” between the broom and the ice.  Not worrying about whether the broom was actually on the ice makes things work much better, especially when throwing heat.  So I was playing fairly awesomely, and I thought everyone else was, too, but the other team was just all over us.  Mike stood in at vice, the start of a 4-game in 3 days run.

On Sunday when we got to the club, we found the Mike and Mary had won their Mixed match.  They had bumped into these people who sent the notes from the clinic and got a little demonstration and reported also really throwing well.  Meanwhile, the opposing team’s captain called out at the last minute (captain because in Beginner’s League, the skips rotate), and there was no sub, so they were throwing 3-handed and without any voice of experience.  Of course, we also lack a voice of experience, so at least we were evenly-matched in the “years of experience” field although we probably have more games under our belts.

In any case, we dug in hard stealing 2 in the first end.  It was looking bad in the second end where a series of underthrows lead to the other team having a stone or two well-protected behind the guards.  They raised the stakes by delicately threading a stone through a small hole to put two very close to the center.  I answered with a similarly astounding shot that pushed one of theirs and left mine right on the button with stones holding up part of the back.  We were going to steal another point.  I’ve always felt that winning 2 ends in a row is a big psychological score.  I often feel like we’re still in the game until the other team gets 2 ends on us and then suddenly it seem really hard.  Maybe it’s just the way the scoreboard is laid out?  Anyway, with our point all but certain the other team threw an even more amazing shot that again went through the eye of the needle, this time bumping out my blue stone and one of the red stones, leaving the shooter in play and another red stone - they picked up 2 to tie it up.

And thus it went for pretty much the whole night - one team would make an amazing play and the other team would somehow top it.  Tied after 5 ends, we went into the 6th end and finally got a break.  Some good playing and some missed takeouts left us sitting two with a potential to use the last stone to get 3 or 4.  I decided to draw around the guards but had Mike give the ice narrow because I had a feeling that tapping one of my guards back might also work well.  And that’s what happened, although I came in a little too hot and knocked one of ours out so we picked up 3 and finally had a real lead with only enough time for one end.  I dialled in defense, throwing up lots of guards and with all of the traffic, we managed to squeeze out another pair to seal the deal.

Also the Pats had a loss befitting the Eagles.  Mike and Mary are now officially Philadelphians.


Cracked Bell - Rounds 2 and 3

Monday, January 8th, 2007

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Additional notes on our Round 1 loss: club members seemed astounded that not only did we not get shut out by our opponents that we scored in 2 ends, one of those being the first end.  Through the remainder of the weekend, I received many tips and pointers from their skip, Wayne.  He’s a bang-up guy.  One of his key tips was to stick to low-risk shots - draws and taps.  Avoid takeouts.  If you throw takeout weight and miss, your stone will probably go through the house and be out of play.  If you aim to knock a stone to the back of the house with just heavy draw weight, a miss will more likely leave your stone somewhere in the house.  My new mentor did not mention this, but I think an interesting side effect is that calling a “takeout” comes with psychological baggage that the stone has to come pretty fast.  I found that asking myself and my teammates to tap a stone back often resulted in a clean takeout.  After the game I asked Derek what advice he might have, as he watched the game.  He basically reiterated Wayne’s advice - stick to taps and draws as much as possible.  I realized that I had not taken Wayne’s advice as seriously as I should have.  By “stick to taps and draws,” I think they really mean “avoid takeouts wherever possible.”  When there seemed to be an “obvious” takeout, I’d still call it.  And have the thrower miss, leaving us with nothing.

Round 2 saw us playing at the unfortunate 8AM time slot against a mixed team from Potomac in Maryland.  They were actually gearing up for the Kayser (the major novice tournament on the east coast) and all had 5 year’s experience (the maximum before you are no longer considered a novice).  Armed with our new knowledge and a weaker opponent (although not much weaker - I don’t remember whether they won or came 2nd in the 2nd bracket, but they went pretty far), we managed to keep the damage better-controlled - we again took 2 ends for 2 points, only letting up 12. 

We hung out with the Potomac folks for a few hours after the game, chatting, playing cards.  They were a nice group of people.  Hopefully we’ll see them at next month’s MACA Friendly.  They were shilling hard for their late-season Cherry Blossom Bonspiel which sounds like a lot of fun, but at this point we’ve probably about exhausted out curling budget for the year.  If you’re not too careful, you could easily curl yourself right to the poor house.

at 5:00PM we took on a group of men from Ardsley in New York.  This group featured a fairly experienced back end and a fairly new front end.  This time, I really stuck to the no-takeout policy, with nice results.  We were still outmatched, but with growing experience and a narrower gap between us and Ardsley, we kept the margin of victory closer.  We picked up 2 ends for 3 points, keeping things to 10-3.  It was actually a very close match until the 6th end.  I think someone opened the door to the ice shed and the smell of dinner cooking in the clubhouse wafted in and killed our concentration.  We let up 4 in that end.

As with Potomac, we hung out with the Ardsley team for a few hours until they went back to their hotel to rest up for an 8AM game on Sunday.  We were fortunate to get to play against 2 visiting teams.  Part of this whole bonspiel thing is making friends from other clubs, which you may not do as much of if you play with teams from your own club.

That knocked us out of the final bracket and ended our run.  We returned to the club on Sunday for the brunch where Tracy made the best scrapple ever (food is included in the entry fee - why not get your money’s worth?).  We stayed for the two final matches which includes an interesting traditional procession where a bagpiper leads the players onto the ice and everyone has a shot of Drambuie.  After the finals, we headed home for a rest before that evening’s Beginners League game.  Actually Mike and Mary just stayed at the club all afternoon, but X and I left.

The Beginners game was pretty whacky.  Because the four of us are “’spieling” together, some of the league organizers arranged to have us all on the same team so that we can at least practice together some.  The team was so tired from the rest of the weekend that they could barely get a stone into the house!  I made a brief deviation from the newly-adopted “no takeouts” policy and attempted a bold takeout that was completely off target and resulted in a 3-point deficit.  I vowed not to make that mistake again and called more cautiously for the duration of the match.  Anytime the opposition attempted a takeout and missed, I let that be a reminder of why both Wayne and Derek gave me that advice.  The rest of the game was pretty even and some great shots were made. 

We also learned some interesting rules-related tips:

It’s at least frowned upon to try to measure stones with the head of your broom (or anything, for that matter).  It may be illegal (rule 12.2 says “Every stone that is within 1.83 meters (6 feet) of the tee is eligible to be counted. Interpretation: The 6-foot measuring device shall be the sole instrument used to determine whether a stone is in the house, at the conclusion of the end.” which seems to suggest that only the “official” measuring device can be used to measure and it can only be used at the end of the end, but it also could be read to mean that when you’re measuring for score, you have to use a real measuring tool and not a broomhandle or your foot, and if you want to get out the measuring tool, you have to wait until the end is over - but you can take your own informal measurements during the end if you wish.)!  During play I don’t think you often need any kind of precise measurement, but on those rare occasions that you do, it’s probably best to just eyeball as best you can.

And - if you burn a moving stone inside the hogline, you shouldn’t stop it immediately, but rather call yourself on it to the skps in the house as soon as it happens.  Since the opposing skip has the choice to remove the burned stone from play or leave it where it lands (including anything it might have hit in the process) if it works out in his favor.  This, of course, is to prevent you from intentionally burning a stone if you realize it’s not going to go well for you.  If the infraction occurs outside the hogline, the skip isn’t entitled to reposition any rocks, so the stone should be stopped immediately.

A related incident during our match against Potomac - Becca (opposing skip) burned one of our stones trying to sweep it through the house.  By rule, I am supposed to place it where I thought it would have landed.  Becca seemed surprised that I didn’t opt to leave it in the house somewhere, but I couldn’t in good conscience - it hit her broom pretty good and still went throught the house.  It wasn’t stopping!

After this last match we went home to rest up for work.  I have another match Monday night - the “Past Presidents.”  Thankfully, skipping is not nearly as strenuous as sweeping.

Cracked Bell - Round 1

Saturday, January 6th, 2007

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This weekend is the Cracked Bell Bonspiel. Its an open tournament, and we decided it would be a good idea to play in a bonspiel at home before we go traipsing up to Schenectady and end up looking like complete jackasses.

The format involves 16 teams and 3 brackets. Winners stay in their current bracket and losers get bumped down to the next bracket, with the intent being that teams will percolate into the bracket most appropriate to their skill level. Also, all teams pay an entry fee and are promised at least 3 games, so this allows teams that get beat early to still have some good competition.

We dubbed ourselves the Curling Patch Kids. The Schenectady ’spiel marks their centennial, so the theme is “curling through the decades” and we’ll be 80’s-themed.

Our lineup is as follows:
Lead - Mary
Second - X
Vice - Mike
Skip - Troy
Yes, somehow I was elected skip, although as the instigator of this whole strange endeavor I suppose I had it coming. I did at least want to try doing it for more than the 2 ends stretches in the beginners league.

I was REALLY nervous going out there. There is a lot of pressure on the skip - you have to call the shots, AND you have to make the money shots. Also, none of us had played for a few weeks, which is never good. We were playing against a father and his 3 daughters. I had played with him before at some point. He’s a nice guy and also does a lot of coaching and teaching of curling, so he has a lot of great pointers. One of his daughters is 12. The others college aged. We could take these young’uns!

The stakes were VERY high for this match. Never mind getting bumped to the B-level bracket; the loser of the match has to play at 8AM Saturday morning!

So we jumped into the first end with the hammer in our favor, and the opposition quickly got to work jamming up the approach, while I tried to stick to the textbook method of keeping things open. And lo and behold, some good shots came out and we scored a point! Hey, I can actually do this skip thing and not completely screw it up! After this, I was a lot less nervous.

But it was all down hill from there. I think they opted not to kill us, although we screwed ourselves most of the time. In fact, I think we played really well. At the end of the day, we’ve really only been playing ~3 months, so knocking our opponents’ stones into the rings (that seemed to happen a lot) is just going to be a fact of life for awhile! We made a lot of good plays and even scored another point somewhere.

Final score was something like 17-2. We essentially conceded the match when victory became mathematically impossible at 12-2 after the 7th end, but we paid $200 and as I always say - nobody made it to the Olympics by curling LESS. Unless you’re out of time, there’s little to be gained by not playing the 8th end. Also, if you give up after an odd end, you have to push the stones back to the near end of the ice. Why not just play them? The opposing skip, being that he loves to coach and does not get to curl with his daughters too often was happy to go along.

I actually enjoyed skipping enough that I’d happily keep doing it. I definitely miss sweeping, but of course I still get to do that during league play. About the only thing I really dislike about skipping is that you need to keep the pace up. I would love to stare at the stones for a few minutes and really figure out the best shot, but with a target rate of 15 minutes per end, you’ve got less than 2 minutes per stone and the stone takes 20 - 30 seconds to travel down the ice. You have to try to bank the time so that you have some leeway when you REALLY need to think about a tough or critical shot.

Coming off the ice, people seemed impressed both that we had the guts as newbies to come put our heads on the chopping block, and that we managed to score 2 on our opponents. It was revealed to us that the older girls compete at the national level and the younger one is just starting down a similar path. These folks have won the Silver Mushroom bonspiel multiple times! We didn’t stand a chance…we held our own against fierce competition.

And one day, maybe those girls will go on to Olympics or world championships and we’ll be able to tell everyone how we got beat by them in the first game of our first bonspiel.

And now we have to get up at 6:30 so I’m going to sleep.