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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 /> » General

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Weird dream!

Wednesday, October 15th, 2008

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I often have weird theatrical dreams.  I can’t call them nightmares because I don’t really get freaked out but the recurring theme is like this: I’m at a theater, I’m in a show, and we are warming up for a live performance.  And that’s all I know.  I have no recollection of being at any rehearsals.  I don’t know any lines, blocking or choreo.  I’m not sure what my character is.  In fact, I don’t even know what show I’m in!  I find myself lurking around backstage trying to catch a look at somebody’s script to see if I can get a title of the show.  I try to find a program…maybe I can figure out what my part is.  I casually ask cast members if we can review a scene that I describe very vaguely in the hopes they’ll volunteer a scene, or I’ll ask someone if they can get my back during the show and tell me when to go on stage and nudge me in the right direction.  It’s all really weird.  Never really freaks me out.  Just weird.  Feel free to analyze.

Last night I had a particularly strange variation on this.  I was in Footloose.  Still.  Yes, that Footloose, the one that closed in June.  I didn’t know I was in it, but I was.  Apparently there was a tour or some sort of ongoing engagement to take place later in the year and we were actually supposed to continue rehearsing.  I’m not sure what brought me to the theater, but I happened to be there and I found a rehearsal going on.  Most of the cast was different.  As I asked around I found that most of them left the cast after quarrelling with the production staff and had been replaced.  There was never a huge blowout but one-by-one many of the cast members had their own individual battles and decided to quit.  The director and musical director were different.  In fact the musical director was a guy from my high school.  The choreographer was the same but since he had already taught the cast back in May he was essentially out of the picture.  All of the blocking and choreo had been passed down by word-of-mouth as cast members came and went.

My name was still on the cast list.  On paper, I was still assigned the same collection of small parts.  It seemed that amidst all of the directorial changes and cast turnover, they never bothered to replace me.  Everyone assumed that I had come to rehearsals when they were not there.  The directors had figured that I must have made arrangements with one of their predecessors to take a leave for awhile, but any note indicating that was just lost in the shuffle.  The theater’s executive director had assured the directors that I was very reliable and that they did not need to worry; while no one had any idea when I said I would return to rehearsals, I surely told someone that I would return to rehearsals at some point before we resumed performances and I surely would return when I said I would even though no one could remember when I said I would.  In short, through a very bizarre sequence of events my parts had been held for me and no one ever thought to contact me or look for me.  Like Estragon and Vladimir, the cast and staff went right on rehearsing, faithfully waiting, sincerely believing that if I didn’t come to rehearsal today I would surely come tomorrow.

Except unlike the mysterious Godot, I actually did show up eventually.  Except I had no idea anyone was waiting for me.  Here I had come to the theater on unknown but definitely completely unrelated business and the two or three remaining original cast members perked up their heads and said “Hey, Troy’s here!  We can finally rehearse The Girl Gets Around and Mama Said!”  I was completely confused, but I felt so bad that the beleagured production had actually waited for me for 3 months, I didn’t have the heart to tell them that I had believed my Footloose contract had been completed.  I just kinda smiled and jumped into the rehearsal.  I made a note to myself to come up with a surreptitious way to figure out just when and where we were going to run this thing.

Man was that a weird one.

Thoughts after the Olympics

Monday, August 25th, 2008

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First: Dear news outlets and casual observers: NO ONE ‘WINS THE OLYMPICS.’  The end of the games has brought with it the usual wrap-ups of “The Medal Count” (not to mention the analyses of “The Medal Count” for the past two weeks).  People wringing their hands that China “won” because of more golds.  The US “won” because of more overall.  If the US wants to continue “winning the Olympics” they are going to have to employ China’s strategy of focusing on individual events with multiple medals instead of big team events where a stack of beefy athletes can only get one medal.

No one “wins the Olympics.”  The individual medal count can be useful as an at-a-glance indicator of how your team is doing overall.  Of course it needs to be put into context, so you need to see the medal counts for other countries alongside so you can compare.  And the list has to be ordered somehow.  All necessary evils.  But all of the interpretation and extrapolation that comes out of it is annoying and unnecessary.

No one “wins the Olympics.”  Until the Olympics begins awarding medals for overall national performance, the most medals and the most gold medals are meaningless metrics.  I think in the US we simply can’t come to grips with a game having no clearly defined winner, so we have to come up with a way to declare someone the winner even if it’s not real.  I think every medal count graphic should come with a disclaimer that the “medal count” has no actual meaning because no one “wins the Olympics.”

Second: NBC did a better job in covering the games than in the past, but they still screwed the pooch.  You can find plenty of commentary on this, so I won’t rehash it all here.  I will list my biggest gripe which was that as in past years they primarily fed us a steady diet of swimming, track, beach volleyball and gymnastics, especially during prime time.  I will give NBC the benefit of the doubt here that these are believed to be the sports that are most popular in the US and they have to cater to the market demands.  No problem.  At least they gave us a lot of on-line options (though this could still be better).

But I was bothered by a way-too-short segment on the Nightly News that aired 8/24.  It was about unsung Olympic heroes of the US.  People that won medals that you probably never heard about.  And it was way too topical and short.  Stop the presses!  Doesn’t NBC have the exclusive US broadcast rights?  Why didn’t we hear about them?  I don’t think NBC has a right to do a piece on the “Unsung Heroes” that are unsung in large part because NBC could not be bothered to sing about them.  That seems awfully hypocritical.

I will also rehash my gripes from 2006 that they make the broadcast coverage more DVR friendly.  It is absolutely unhelpful to have a 10-hour block of programming that lists a jumble of events.  Why can’t they be broken into smaller increments?  It’s especially confounding considering so much of what we saw was pre-recorded. Still, I’m willing to put up with last minute scheduling changes screwing things up.  I’d rather miss a few things that way than have to choke my DVR hard drive with 9 hours of garbage I don’t want to see just I can take a peak at some hour-long offbeat event I don’t get to see often.  Maybe you can also put mainstream stuff on NBC and then devote another network (or at least a daily program) to offbeat events.

Two-And-A-Half Minutes Of Hell

Tuesday, August 5th, 2008

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I did not expect paddling 500m in an outrigger canoe fast enough to qualify for the national team to be an easy task by any means.  I did think that completing the test in a reasonable amount of time would be fairly trivial. 

In the week preceding my first test, I had received some good advice from my mentors and I had it all planned out.  I would start with 3 hard strokes to get moving, 20 sprint strokes to get up to speed and then settle in at my closest approximation of the stroke rate we maintain during practice.  Evelyn had also recommended doing a “Power 20″ (20 hard, up-rate strokes) every so often as well.  It all seemed quite sensible.  Backstage during Footloose I had envisioned it in my mind many times.  Based on race results I looked at, I project that it would take me approximately 2.5 minutes to run through 500m.  We routinely go full-bore at practice for 6 minutes or more, so 2.5 minutes should be a piece of cake!

The tests are usually taken in a section of the Schuylkill River Canal in Manayunk.  The canal is shallow, narrow, fairly well-sheltered from wind, and generally slow moving.  It’s basically a more controlled environment than the open river.  It’s also easier to manage since the paddler and the starter and timer are closer to each other and can communicate better.

I arrived at the test site a little early and found a few team members waiting on a bridge for the canoes to arrive.  Once they arrived, I helped carry them to the water and then walked to the other side where there is a wooden deck that is used for loading and unloading and where everyone hangs out while they wait for their turn. My friend from day 1 Cliff had volunteered to paddle the left-outrigger across.  Since he was already in the boat, it was decided that he would go first.  Since I was the only other left-side paddler present so early, I would be the second to go.  One part of me wanted to at least see a few people go before I went.  The other part of me doesn’t put much stock in last-minute cramming and didn’t think seeing others go would help much.  I put my name on the list and got ready to run.

After Cliff finished his time trial, I was helped into the boat.  As I paddled towards the starting line, team members walked along on the canal towpath offering me some last minute encouragement and tips.  Closer to the starting line I was introduced to a guy named Ed who gave me an overview of the race course and where best to steer the boat.  Unfortunately the canal has a dogleg to the left so just paddling up the middle makes for a longer, slower ride.

As I approached the starting line, Ed handed me off to Margaret and Bob.  They were to my right.  Bob was giving me some instructions about steering, how the start procedure would work and other first-timer advice.  I was drifting past them so I had to turn my head to the right to see them.  Observant readers will recall that in my last post, the conditions that led to me flipping the boat while practicing involved looking back over my right shoulder.  Obviously I didn’t learn!  Bob Gannon had said he was going to come take pictures…fortunately he had not yet arrived to document that part of the test!  Of course being an expert at re-mounting these things, I righted the boat, hopped right back in and splashed all the water out of the footwells and got the thing turned around.

The time had come.  Bob gave me instructions to get my boat pointed in the right direction.  The start procedure goes “Ready…Attention…Go”.  From “Ready” to “Go” should ideally be 5 seconds.  When the starter says “Attention” you raise the paddle, ready to strike.  Bob yelled “Go” and I dug in hard.  I did my 3 hard strokes followed by 20 pops and then settled into the body of the run, just as planned.  But I did not foresee just how different the “race” situation would be.  I have noticed one thing in practice - the first piece in a set is always hardest for me.  I think once I get through that one my heartrate is elevated and I’m in the working mindset.  But I didn’t have that first piece to get myself going.  Maybe I need to sprint up to the starting line to get myself in gear…I noticed one guy run up and down the towpath before he started, which is another possibility.

In any case I think I was out of breath within about 30 seconds!  Once I’m out of breath, I become a lot less efficient.  My paddling technique gets a little sloppy and I forget to work the rudder pedals, causing me to zigzag on the course.  One cool thing was other members of the team jogged with me on the towpath, cheering me on, calling out when to do a ‘power 20,’ reminding me to use good technique, etc.  Some people ask not to have a “cheering squad,” some say they don’t even notice them when they do it.  But I noticed and I think I may have used their presence as a fear of failure hack to keep myself.  As I paddled along at what felt to me like a snail’s pace, barely able to breathe, the thought of giving up with all those people cheering me on was unthinkable; I had to keep paddling.

I finally crossed the finish line and successfully circled around in the narrow canal without flipping the boat again and returned to the dock.  My time: 2:49 and change.  Is that good or bad?  I had to ask since I didn’t know either.  Cliff told me that he did 2:49 his first time ever.  That’s encouraging.  Cliff also said that 3 minutes is sort of the Mendoza Line here - if you can break 3 minutes you should probably persist.  If you can’t break 3 minutes you might want to find a different pursuit.  So I have potential, at least.  I still was not sure how fast I needed to go to make one of the national teams. 

I hung out for awhile after the run, cheering on my teammates, observing how better paddlers paddle and catching up with Bob Gannon.  Bob missed my time trial (and my flipping the boat) but stuck around taking pictures of the team and some of the architecture around the canal.  I had seen him since the end of curling so it was nice to catch up!

I had another test the following week, so I practiced hard all week and spent more time in the OC1 hoping to build my chops some and improve my steering.  I wasn’t sure just how much time I could drop, but I was fairly certain that I could make significant gains just from using good technique more consistently and maintaining a straighter course.  My second time trial was more of the same.  I didn’t sprint to the starting line, but I did paddle up harder than I did before.  I maintained mostly the same game plan.  I felt just as winded just as quickly but I was prepared for it this time.  One thing I did notice:  you go under two bridges in the course.  When I came out from under the second bridge, I remember spotting the finish line and thinking “I’m almost there!” but as I frantically paddled, it did not seem to be getting closer!

But, when the churning was done, I had two successes.  The first was that I did not flip the boat!  The second, I had clocked in 2:39, dropping 10 seconds from my previous time.  I definitely took a faster course and I think I also paddled with better technique.  2:39 was not going to be fast enough to get me onto the team for the National Championships, but at least I made some good improvements, although I have another 20+ seconds to go before I can make it.

Unfortunately, this was going to be my last shot at qualifying for the year.  You actually get a lot of chances to qualify, but I missed many of them due to my commitments to Footloose.  I am not dissatisfied with my performance.  I started late in the season so I did not have a lot of time to develop the strength and techniques, but I was able to get a reasonably competitive level in that short time. 

This also does not mark the end of the season.  There are still races to compete in other than the Nationals (and to by honest, I had not budgeted for a trip to California in July!), and those who were not selected for Nationals are welcome/encouraged to continue coming to practice (although they may be asked to give up their seats or switch sides.  I only had to switch sides twice for a portion of practice.  I only saw one person have to give up a seat.).  When I set out on this adventure, competing at the national level never occurred to me.  I just wanted to get in shape, learn a new skill, get back into paddling, maybe meet some new friends.  As long as I could keep practicing, I was not overly heartbroken about not making the team.  I’ll certainly try again next year!

You Can Do Eeeeet!

Monday, June 23rd, 2008

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In my last post, I described recent climbing trip, in so many words, as a life-changing experience.  Perhaps every excursion is a journey of self-realization (having only been on two trips 10 years apart, I don’t really know), but this one certainly was for me.  You see, I got up on that rock face.  I made the obvious moves of varying difficulty.  Then I got to a crux.  A place where the next move is very hard, not obvious, potentially out my reach.  I’d make a few tentative touches, maybe even gingerly try a move without really committing to it.  I’d announce that I was coming down, the people on the ground would groan in disapproval, then I’d give it a shot.

There’s something to this, something more than just being fatigued or my fear of heights.  Both play a factor, but at the end of the day I am no stranger to dangling from a rope and I know the safety equipment will catch me.  Why not just jump for it and see what happens?  Nothing really happens if you fail.

Yet I could not really bring myself to try these tough moves, at least not without someone encouraging me to do so.  Maybe there’s a psychological word for this, but I’m just going to come right out and call it like I see it, and I’m calling it “fear of failure.”  I wasn’t scared of falling, or scraping my legs on the rock face - I had already done that plenty of times.  I was just plain scared of not being able to do it.

I don’t know why I would have this fear.  My parents always encouraged me to try pretty much anything I wanted.  It didn’t matter if I was good at it as long as I tried my hardest and honored my commitments.  It’s not like I ever got any sort of consternation or punishment from my parents if I didn’t do well at something.  The only think I can think is that I didn’t fail enough?  Generally I either was successful in an endeavor, or at least not unsuccessful (say, getting a supporting role in a show when I wanted a leading role - I still got a part) so maybe, not having much experience with actual failure I’m afraid to have to face it?  I’m really not sure.  It really doesn’t matter.

I started noticing the fear of failure motif in other areas of my life.  Putting off tough projects around the house.  Not going to auditions.  Not going to events in the city.  Maybe not EVERYTHING I chicken out on is due to fear of failure, but I am starting to think that a lot of it is…and even if it’s not the solution is the same.  If I can recognize that something I think I don’t want to do (climbing 200′ multipitch, for example) is because I’m scared of not being able to do it and talk myself into doing it (or get someone else to encourage me), it doesn’t actually matter if it really is because I’m scared of not being able to do it.  I need to recognize the signs, motivate myself or when necessary get someone to motivate me.

And that’s what I’m doing.  About 2 weeks before Footloose opened and I was sketchy on some of the dances, unsure about having all of my costumes, and even unclear on some of the music, I found myself dreading rehearsals.  I couldn’t quit (cf. statement above about honoring your commitments…one thing I could never do with impunity was quit a show in rehearsals or a sports team in mid-season), so I was toughing it out, but why was I feeling like this?  That’s fear of failure.  So I got myself in gear, reviewed the music, worked with Gavin to get the dance shored up, talked to Sean and Ashley about the costumes to make sure everything was ok…problem solved.  Tech week was strenuous but I didn’t dread it.

I’ll have more on fighting fear of failure in my next entry…I’m trying to stop having my posts be so darn long! 

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!

December Curling - USWCA 5 and Under Bonspiel

Thursday, April 3rd, 2008

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Finally a real curling update! And there’s still 2 weeks left in the season (when I started writing…now it’s over)!

I believe I mentioned in a previous post that I have joined a competitive men’s team consisting of Ken B, Eric R, Vince F and me. Our plan was to go to The Dykes (Francis Dykes Bonspiel - don’t get any ideas), which is one of the premier men’s “5 and Under” events on the east coast. 5 and Under is a division that requires all team members to have less than 5 years’ experience. It gives them a chance to have a good shot at doing well in a tournament without getting kicked to the ground by people with lots of experience.

The US Women’s Curling Association sponsored their first-ever 5 and Under Open event this year at Nutmeg Curling Club in Connecticut. I believe their intent is to sort of round out a “Grand Slam of Novice Curling” that includes The Dykes for men, Women’s Challenge for Women and Kayser for Mixed. For those of you wondering, the difference between Mixed and Open formats is that Mixed requires 2 men and 2 women throwing alternately while Open can be all men, all women or any combination and throwing in any order.

Being a new event, this bonspiel didn’t have an existing fan-base to fuel attendance, and it’s close proximity to the December Holidays may also have made teams hesitant to register. I have since also learned that curlers like to wait until the very last minute before they commit! In any case, at our Harvest Bonspiel, someone let slip to Kaptain Ken that the Nutmeg event was still looking for teams to compete. Ken did a quick straw poll and found that we were interested and probably available, although lacking a 4th man (at this point Eric R had already pretty much finalized his decision to not stay with our team). Fortunately, it turned out that there was another 2nd year curler at Broomstones in Boston looking for a team. An unholy alliance between Boston and Philly was thus formed.

Friday, December 14 was the opening day of the tournament. We had a nice draw time in the afternoon that meant we would not have to get up insanely early or leave the day before to make it to Nutmeg in time. I drove up with Ken while Vince decided to have a go at taking the train. Ken and I made fine time getting to Bridgeport and arrived at the train station 15-20 minutes ahead of Vince. We used the time to explore Bridgeport a little bit and rustle up some lunch at Subway. After picking up our food, we circled around to the train station, picked up Vince and headed out to the curling club, some 15 minutes away.

We made a couple minor wrong turns on the way but we arrived at the club in short order with nearly an hour to eat, change and stretch before our match. And of course figure out who our third man was. Our third man had asked to play second and we figured we would give him that. In league play Vince and I had switched off at vice and Ken was indifferent about where we played in the lineup at the bonspiel. He basically said “Let’s try it one way and if we get killed maybe we’ll switch for the next game.” Good plan! Well, having recently started keeping notes of my shots and accuracy percentages, I was clocking my strongest average in guard shots at 53.13% and my draws and takeouts were both in the 40% range. In addition, I had been playing lead in most of my teams and felt that I was throwing really well at lead so I might as well try and grow it as much as possible.

That, and I like playing lead. In club play the least experienced players usually play at lead and second (front end). The reason for this is that a strong vice and skip (back end) can make up for a terrible front end. If the front end makes their shots, so much the better. If the front end misses everything, hopefully the more experience back end can bail them out. This makes a lot of sense in club play because putting the newbies in the back end makes it very hard for their team to score and will lead to the players feeling discouraged and not having a good time. You don’t want that. The downside is that it leads to a notion that front end spots are “lower-ranking” than back end spots. People have a desire to “move up” from the front-end. As a result, the lead position could be a real chance to shine.

In any case, due to my enjoyment of playing lead and my recent strong performances, I nominated Vince to play Vice. Around this time, we were introduced to our final player, the affable Dan Hines. A man brimming with what I can only describe as “Boston-ness.” He’s got a little bit of the accent, but really when I say Boston-ness I mean he’s just really friendly, easy to get along with, nice guy, etc. He sort of embodies what I feel when I go to Boston…if that makes any sense.

A stretch, bite and a handshake later we found ourselves out on the ice playing against some beloved New Jerseyans from one of the other PCCs, the Plainfield Curling Club. I won’t bore you with a stone-by-stone accounting of the match. I was a little bit jittery when we first stepped onto the ice. Ice at bonspiels is usually a little quick compared to our ice at home and I was very nervous about not being able to slow things down enough, but I managed to throw my first stone in front of the house and hogged my second stone. I was definitely able to keep my weight down.

The game was close throughout, although I felt that we had things under control for the duration. Things got a little bit scary in the final end. I don’t know what happened, but as you can see in the stats I missed both of my shots in the final end setting Plainfield up for a comeback, but Dan swooped in after me and cleaned up the mess. We pulled it together and finished up the win. My 43.75% on the game was not my best work, but it was not too bad, either. I was psyched because I had not won a single bonspiel match and while I thought we had a solid team, we are still on the low-end of 5 years.

The bad news - we were playing some Juniors from Broomstones. JHCurl blogged that you might see these kids in the Olympics. Their opponents in the first round quit after just 4 ends. It was a total blowout. I told X that if we lost to a bunch of kids we’d probably have to talk Ken down off a ledge, so let’s hope we don’t have to actually play them. There goes that theory!

I picked up a Plainfield pin. They have a really cool junior pin that looks like a NJ license plate, but I opted for the “traditional” one. Hopefully I can get one of the other pins later. After the Plainfield folks cleared out, we noticed one of them left their pouch of pins. I’m not sure why, but we decided to pick it up so that it we could safely return it to them the next day. As if they would not be coming back to the club…strange logic, but I guess we were tired. There was not a whole lot going on at the club that night so we grabbed a little dinner and headed back to the hotel.

I had heard Bridgeport is seedy. It is. I had heard the hotel is seedy. It sort of is. It’s in a seedy area, but once inside the hotel it seemed pretty average as far as “budget” accommodations go. We all definitely agreed that next time we’re at Nutmeg we’ll probably stay in Trumbull instead of Bridgeport. Sorry, Bridgeport :)

It was only about 7PM when we checked in. Thinking the hotel was seedy, I did not bring my laptop since it is a work laptop and I’d hate to have it stolen. So all I had to entertain myself was a couple books and TV until at least a reasonable time to sleep. We had an early game but I can only go to bed so early! I told Ken and Vince to give me a call when they were settled if they wanted to go down to the hotel bar for a drink to kill some time.

Ken rang me around 7:30 and we headed down to the hotel bar which left us less than impressed. We left pretty much as soon as we came and sought Vince who had been exploring the hotel. We picked him up at his room and went to Ken’s room to look for a place to go hang out. We weren’t finding much except a bar that might be at a nearby college and might be more our speed. We went downstairs to ask the front desk if there was anything nearby. She told us of a place just a couple blocks away. I was a little nervous about venturing out there, but we gave it a shot.

We stepped into this little sorta-Irish bar and found it well-light and fairly pleasant. There was an interesting mix of people and the music blaring from the jukebox reflected this in a rather bizarre oscillation between the likes of Queen and 50-Cent. It seemed like a pleasant neighborhood bar where all the regulars knew each other and just hung around on a Friday night. We had a few drinks. Vince, who has a rather canine drive to explore new surroundings, got up to scope out the back rooms. He reported that there was a pool table back there and while no one said anything to him, he got the impression that he should probably not stick around.

While we drank, we commisserated about the match ahead of us. I’m going to talk frankly here, so I want to preface this by saying that I don’t intend any offense to anyone. I hope my 2 or 3 readers would find our psychological struggle interesting and there’s nothing more to it then that.

We were a little bit unhappy with the prospect of playing the Juniors. We were scared of getting our butts kicked, but we were also sceptical of their eligibility for the tournament at all. You see, youths can begin curling with half-sized stones at age 6. They switch to full-sized stones when they enter the Junior level at age 12. These guys ranged from ages 12-14. Even if you only give partial “credit” for their years playing with half-sized stones, it seems a stretch to consider that they have less than 5 years’ experience. The 14-year-old was conceivably in his 8th year curling! We don’t mind losing, but it seems really weak to lose to a team that perhaps shouldn’t be eligible to play at all.

We asked ourselves a lot of questions that night. Should we complain to the organizers? Should we complain to the juniors’ coach? Should we complain to the USWCA? Should we forfeit that match under protest? Should we call someone at our club and ask their advice? One of the main problems was that if we played them and won, we really had no grounds to complain. If we played them and lost, it would seem like sour grapes to complain. We basically needed to complain before playing.

But what would complaining really do for us? We stepped back and looked at the facts. Somebody gave these guys the OK to come down here and play. They paid an entry fee just like the rest of us. Maybe it’s normal to allow competitive juniors to compete in Under-5. Maybe it’s not normal but the bracket was not filled up so the organizers made an exception to allow them. In any case, we’re talking about guys 12-14 years old who just want to curl. If we complain or forfeit, we won’t be teaching them a lesson; they’ll just wonder why the adults wouldn’t play with them. At the end of the day, we also represent not just ourselves, but our club. Poor conduct on our part would basically be considered poor conduct from all of Philadelphia. We concluded that the only honorable course of action was to go out, play the best we could and hope for the best. After the bonspiel we could consider expressing our concerns.

A guy in a weird puffy coat with fur trim came in. He looked like trouble. He talked to the bartender for a few minutes, then left. We then struck up a conversation with the bartender. He told us that soon after the other bartender came in at 10:00 the place would fill up with “knuckleheads.” What kind of kuckleheads? Let’s just say that after 10PM they don’t serve anything in a glass container. If you order beer in a bottle they pour it into a plastic cup before they give it to you. A glance down at the watch…9:30. And the creepy dude with the puffy coat just came back in. Maybe it’s time to get out of here while we can still call it a pleasant evening. We also needed to prepare for the tough battle ahead of us. We walked back to the hotel, came up with a meeting time for the morning and went to sleep.

Day 2, early. We met in the hotel lobby and walked around the corner to Dunkin Donuts to grab some breakfast before heading to the curling club. Wondering off-handedly if Dan will show up since he had a comp and spent the night at Mohegan Sun. We rehash our strategy. I will not disclose it, but one of our mantras was “Don’t give up any big ends.” The atmosphere among us had the grim gravity of going into a battle that you are pretty sure you cannot win. Nonetheless, we suited up and headed out onto the ice to face our youthful adversaries.

I lead off with a half-decent draw to the front of the house. The Broomstones lead immediately replaced it with his own. And that’s when we started digging in hard with our strategy. We didn’t take that stone out. Ken called to tap it back or sit on it. As I delivered the stone I heard one of the guys on the other team say “What the heck are they doing?” After the first-end smoke cleared, we had scored. If nothing else…it wasn’t going to be a shutout.

For the next 7 ends, I tried to shape my face into a mask of non-chalant, completely unconcerned, but utter determination. Anytime I started to get jittery, I’d strike up a conversation with Dan which calmed my nerves. As the numbers ticked up onto the scoreboard, end after end, they somehow kept ending up on our side of the scoreboard. We kept stealing aces and even though we weren’t crushing them and we knew one mistake could quickly turn the tables (hence our “No big ends” mantra), it seemed like our strategy was working and as long as we could continue to execute it, we might actually pull it off.

When all was said and done, I had 59.38% accuracy, my second best recorded score since I started keeping notes. I had also thrown a career-high 65% on guard shots. But more importantly, after the 8th end ran out….we were ahead! Somehow we managed to eke out a victory against them to stay in the 1st event. Elated, but drained from the match that was perhaps more emotionally strenuous than physically, we went out to the warm room to broomstack.

One great thing about beating teenagers is that you don’t have to buy them a beer :). We hung out for awhile chatting, and as we got to know the kids and their coach, the more I knew we made the right decision playing them even if we had lost. You remember being 12, 13, 14. Sure you want to win, but at the same time, you just want to have a good time. Regardless of whomever allowed them to enter the tournament, whether it was correct or not, from these guys perspective, all they wanted to do was just go out and play! And now if these guys ever make it to nationals, worlds, olympics, etc, we can tell everyone that we won a match against them back in the day :-)

We couldn’t celebrate for too long, though. We now had a match against another Broomstones team in just a couple of hours. There went the plans to go back to the hotel for a nap. We did make a brief drive back to the hotel area, though. Remember those pins that the Plainfield guy left? He came in for the next match and was relieved to learn that we rescued them for him. I went to get them out of my bag…they weren’t in there! They must be in the car. Go look in the car…no pins. Now I was getting nervous. I tried to recollect exactly what I had with me in the morning. Best I could do was this: we had a gift bag that we got when we checked in. I had taken it back to my room the night before with the pins in it. In the morning, I must have taken the bag with me, pins and all, and then while we were in Dunkin Donuts, I sat the bag on the counter so that I could pay and forgot to pick it up again. The only problem with this theory is that no one remembered me carrying this gift bag! With little else to go on, Ken drove me back to the Dunkin Donuts and waited in the car while I ran across the street. I stepped into Dunkin Donuts and stuck my hand in my coat pocket and felt something in there next to me gloves. CRAP! The pins were in my coat all along! I really didn’t bring the gift bag! Annoyed that I didn’t think to look in my coat, but relieved that I hadn’t lost the pins, we drove back to the club and I was able to return them. I still don’t know why we didn’t just leave them…it’s not like they would have gone anywhere! Ahh well.

Not much time left then, just a quick bite before it was time to take on more Broomstoners. Poor Dan had to take on some of his own people! This was also a beefy team. If you look on the GNCC bonspiel results pages for names like Karen Walker, Paul Marseglia and Stephanie Torta, you’ll see them appear in a lot of places.  Tough match-up!  It’s also worth noting that Stephanie Torta is the graphic designer behind LittleFish whom we met last year at Schenectady.

Out on the ice we played a decent match.  In fact, while it did not FEEL like the strong match we played against the juniors, the numbers I recorded in the notebook were even better - 62.5% overall and 75% on guards.  My draw percentage was also ever-increasing.  I did not throw any takeouts this match.  Unfortunately, despite another strong showing, we somehow managed to run afoul of our “No Big Ends” rule somewhere in the 6th or 7th end where a 3 or 4-ender put the beantowners out front with too little time to recover.  Our trip to the First Event final ended in the semi-finals.  The good news is that regardless of win or loss, we had guaranteed ourselves a 4th game by winning the first two, and would get to play on Sunday in the 4th Event final!

Saturday evening there was a nice dinner followed by a game where you took one of the half-sized youth stones and put it in a specific location in the ice and then play a relatively normal game of curling using the small stone as the “button.”  Oh, and if you hit the small stone and move it, the stones are scored based on the actual location of the stone.  In other words, the target moves.  We had a re-match against the juniors here (well, Vince and me) and a clutch shot by one of our teammates saved us in the end.  After that there were drawings and raffles.  We didn’t stay too late since we had another 8AM draw.

Sunday.  Not to be superstitious or anything, but…repeat process from yesterday with Dunkin Donuts for breakfast and then a trip to the club.  For the Fourth Event final we were facing some potential home-team ringers from Nutmeg.  I mean, the skip’s name was LaRoche and based on the liberal use of French we could only assume some of these people were Quebecois.  I had already had my fair share of trouble from Montreal…here was more.

As luck would have it, the Canadian portion of our adversaries did not actually take up curling until after moving to the US (this was a tournament for 5 years’ experience or less, remember), so it wasn’t the usual beating I’ve gotten from Canadian opponents.  Not to say it was an easy match, but we managed to keep it tight and this time we got the big end and held on to the lead.  I managed to increase my scores again, ending the tournament with a “career-high” 67.86% overall and 83.33% in the guard department.  At some point during this match Ken offered me a choice between a guard and some other shot and I told him that at this point I’ve probably thrown 50 guards this weekend and a lot of them are starting to go where they are supposed to go.  If it ain’t broke, I’ll throw a guard!

After the match we had a quick drink and a mingle.  We could not stick around too long because Vince had a train to catch and we wanted to get home and get some rest!  There was a brief presentation of the award pins, and our gracious hosts supplied us with some slices of really tasty hoagies for the road (N.B. the box said ‘Wedge’ so I have now seen this rather obscure name for a hoagie used in the real world).  We dropped Vince at the station and headed for home.

It ended up being a great weekend.  I really did not know what to expect - while we didn’t do awful in men’s league, we certainly weren’t winning matches.  Sure, a bunch of second-year curlers should be outmatched by pretty much every team, but we also thought that at some point things would line up correctly and we would pull out a victory!  On top of this, we had to acclimate ourselves to a player we had never even met before, and the pressure and jitters of a bonspiel.  There was also a lot riding on this because getting crushed would probably have been a sign that we should disband our team and come up with different teams to bring to the Dykes in February.

Fortunately, it didn’t come to that.  We almost made it to the top.  Despite its name, the 4th event is basically the consolation game - if you assigned 1st/2nd/3rd place, you’d probably call it 3rd place.  Nothing to complain about there!  Our surprise victory against the juniors was defintely the highlight.  The entire team was completely focused and connected.  It was an amazing game.  A big thanks also goes out to Dan Hines for playing admirably for us even against his own Broomstones compatriots.

On a personal level, I was able to keep the nerves (and the weights) down and put stones out front for cover or to be tapped in later on.  As can be seen in the stats, my scores improved with each game and my overall average was 58%.  It will be interesting to see how bonspiel scores compare to “regular season” scores as I accumulate more data.  Our performance at this tournament had us really looking forward to the possiblities of what might happen at the Dykes!

Here are the stats:

Cumulative percentages before and after:

And the full data can be seen here.

I’m not sure if this qualifies as false advertising…

Wednesday, March 12th, 2008

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But it sure seems crappy.
I promise I’ll provide a curling update before the end of the season (I am still transcribing stats from my now-infamous notepad), but I’ve just got to get this off my chest first.

You may have seen this commercial. I don’t watch too many commercials thanks to DVR technology, but I managed to spot this one and it REALLY jumped out at me.

A pickup truck is pulling a trailer and stops on some sort of grassy knoll. People get out and unload something which they inflate into what appears to be some sort of large rubber/plastic sphere…almost like a giant beach ball. The sphere actually has another sphere inside it. From what we see in the commercial, you throw in some water (presumably for lubrication), put one or two or maybe even three people in the middle sphere through a built-in tube, push them down the hill and they enjoy the ride. Because the riders don’t stick to the surface of the inner sphere, they remain fairly stationary while the sphere rolls around them. It really looks like a heck of a lot of fun. You can see a logo in one of the shots. It says “Zorb.”

I figure they would probably be expensive to buy, but I thought I would look it up anyway and here’s what I found: The people that invented Zorb do not sell them! They have some pretty sensible reasons for doing so, including: They want to ensure that they are always used safely (nothing kills a product quite like a product with a reputation for killing people), the spheres are handmade and expensive to build and maintain (of course limiting your market doesn’t contribute to lower production costs), not many people have access to the appropriate hill which they specifiy as something like 300m of gentle slope and another 200m at the bottom for a landing strip, etc. Instead they are relying on franchising Zorb operators who maintain the spheres and hills and safety procedures. This is not inherently bad. Although it seems unfortunate that such a business model will basically relegate Zorb operators to the class of business that operate bungee cranes, laser tag games and other “amusements” at high prices in and around tourist centers, it’s certainly their choice to make. Currently there is only one operator in the US and a single ride (how long can a quarter-mile possibly last?) sets you back over $30.

Anyway, that’s not my complaint. Here is my complaint:
The commercial appears to depict PRIVATE Zorb owners. It looks like a bunch of people who happen to own a few of these and decide to go rolling down a hill on a warm spring day. Like fair-weather sledding - grab your sled, head to the hill, go have fun. If you can’t actually buy a Zorb it seems like the commercial should not depict what appears to be private ownership of a Zorb. It’s not really false advertising seeing as how they aren’t specifically advertising the Zorb, but it’s pretty annoying to see this and learn that you can’t actually own one (unless you want a knockoff).

The end of button proliferation is nigh!

Thursday, January 31st, 2008

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I interrupt regular curling coverage to present this observation. 

Back in the “good old days” we had Atari 400 and Commodore 64.  Yes, these machines had keyboards, but by-and-large most of the contols for the games were carried out using the venerable JOYSTICK.  It had ONE directional control and ONE button.  Despite this limitation (not to mention severe limitations of memory, graphics, processing power, etc), game designers managed to put together fun and innovative games.  It’s not just nostalgia talking - a couple years ago the Fitzes and X and I literally spent HOURS playing Winter Games on the C64 plug-n-play device and had a blast.  The simplicity is part of what made it fun.

Along came Nintendo.

Now, we had games with more than one button (or more than one control stick) in the arcade for awhile.  But for the most part your average home video game system featured the standard one button/one stick control.  Nintendo wanted to push the comfort limits of gamers.  In 1985 (in the US), the NES was released featuring a controller that would revolutionize video game playing, and ruin it, all at the same time.

I remember the first time I played the NES at a friend’s birthday party.  I remember thinking the thumb-operated d-pad looked awkward.  But most of all I wondered how one could manage TWO BUTTONS!  How do you keep them straight in your mind?  Why is B on the left and A on the right?  To this day I prefer a joystick to a thumb pad, but I learned that I could quickly adapt to the extra button and after a round or two of Mike Tyson’s Punchout, I had no trouble playing NES games even if the controller had twice as many buttons.  The extra button was a good thing…it added quite a few control options with little extra complexity.

Then the war began in earnest.

The Sega Master System and Genesis appeared before us.  At first there were THREE buttons.  Even later they came up with a SIX-button design (probably not coincidentally around the time Steet Fighter II was released for Genesis)!  Three buttons were iffy.  It was beginning to get confusing - too many possible combinations, too many positions to commit to muscle memory.  You could make it work, but it was not as effortless as the two NES buttons. 

But it seemed that Nintendo was not going to take this affront lying down.  They plopped FOUR buttons onto the Super NES controller, and they weren’t stopping there - two shoulder buttons were added for good measure!  They were smart in texturing the thumb buttons so that they were not unmanageable, but at this point we were really pushing the limits of good sense.  You had a lot of fingers in action, a lot of button combos to keep track of.  Games were beginning to become less fun for me, and as the graphics got flashier, the gameplay seemed to get more repetitive. 

After SNES, a cold war style button proliferation went into full swing throughout the 1990s.  Controllers morphed from simple, intuitive handheld units into enormous two-fisted monsters with multiple analog sticks, multiple d-pads, analog triggers, multiple shoulder buttons, etc.  I was probably 4 or 5 when I started playing video games.  I think a 5 year old would have trouble even holding a modern controller in his hands!

With the GameCube controller, Nintendo seemed interested in making the human interface easier if not actually simpler.  The A button was made larger and green to help make it an intuitive “main” button with secondary buttons around it.  It was a bit of an improvement, but there were still lots of buttons.  In the meantime Sony and Sega/Microsoft had at least cooled down.  Microsoft added 2 buttons to the Xbox controller but otherwise the controller was similar to Dreamcast’s.  Playstation’s control structure has been fairly static since the Dual Shock with it’s two analog sticks.  While things were not getting crazy, controllers were still cumbersome, and so were games.

Nintendo, the first agressor in this unfortunate battle for complexity, finally decided to really, honestly simplify the control structure when the Wii Remote was envisioned.  At a glance, it does still have a lot of buttons, potentially six counting A, B, 1, 2, + and -.  But they are situated in such a way that it seems Nintendo wants to discourage game designers from trying to use too many of them at once.  Of course analog sticks have been replaced with motion sensing that is both more intuitive and less painful (analog sticks always gave me a sore thumb).  Not only is it easier to use than the previous monster controllers, but the controller-as-an-abstraction concept makes for a fun gaming experience.  It’s no longer the thing that controls the character, it’s whatever the game designer wants you to think it is.  A baseball bat, a tennis racket, a crank, a lever, even an umbrella.  They wanted to make gaming accessible to everyone and the Wii Remote makes it work and with this I believe that the end of button proliferation is nigh (although the beginning of motion detection proliferation could well be at hand…we shall see).

I have only one warning for the game developers: with the Wii Remote, Nintendo has cooked up a unique way to operate a video game.  There is great potential for awesome games like Zack And Wiki.  But there is also a great potential to use the motion sensing as a cheap gimmick to crank out dull and useless games.  It’s already happening with the large collections of mini-games that all make use of the same throwing and swinging motions.  Please think carefully before you try to squeeze another drop of blood from the “swing the controller like a _____” stone.  Ask yourself “Is this just something that was done in Wii Sports with a different visual skin?  Can I come up with something original instead?”  Remember how annoyed you were when you started to realize that an awful lot of Atari games were just some variant of Pong?  At least Atari designers had stringent technical limitations to blame.  What will YOUR excuse be?

Whether the Wii Remote goes down in history as a gimmick or an innovation is in the hands of the game designers. Please don’t let us down.

November Curling Update

Thursday, November 22nd, 2007

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This past weekend was the Harvest bonspiel.  It’s the club’s premier ’spiel, an invitational mixed format.  As such, we raffle off slots that aren’t taken up by teams from “out of town.”  My CPK colleagues and I at this point feel comfortable representing the club in our more “serious” event, so we did not enter the raffle.  But we did get recruited to be on the planning committee for the event so we were around for most of the weekend helping out where necessary.  Everyone had a great time and we were able to raise some money to help club member Jeff Harris who suffered a spinal cord injury over the summer - thanks to everyone who contributed! 

In a personal success, X and I conducted an off-beat curling game including trick shots and throwing of cornish hens.  The success was that this game was played by people in street shoes, some of them more than a little in the bag and no one got hurt!  For next year X and I are already planning some refinements to this portion of the event.

On the curling front, I met some nice and talented curlers.  Chris Faircloth scored me a $16 jackpot and went on to win the second event.  “Team Scotland” claimed the third event which included my former teammate Rich Chadwick and his father.  And the 1st event was conquered by Derek Surka.  That marks his 4th win at the Harvest in 5 years.  His vice (and wife) Charissa was quick to point out that the year they lost was the year she was not in attendance.  I guess there’s some truth to that old saying…

Thanks to everyone who came out, helped, planned, participated, donated and otherwise made it a success!

In the actual “playing” of the game, I believe I’ve played 4 games since my last match.  The first match was a banner game for me in the Mixed league.  I was just hitting things right and left.  Even mistakes went right.  The following Men’s match was not quite as good but still pretty solid.   The next two matches were fairly bleak.  We had a Beginners’ match on Sunday, worn out from the bonspiel.  With the exception of our lead we were just not hitting a thing.  Meanwhile the other team was just dead on, hitting shot after shot.  Anytime we even started to make some headway, they would just blow us right out of the water!  I don’t usually quit early, especially in the Beginners’ where it’s supposed to be a learning experience anyway!

I also made good on my promise to start taking notes on the games and it’s already interesting to have some stats.  Despite my most extensive experience being in the lead position, I am currently weakest in throwing guards at 34% while for takeouts - a weak point for me all last season - I am throwing 50%!  Go figure! 

Also, I throw nearly 3x as many out-turn shots compared to in-turn.

To acquire the stats I’m basically cribbing the 4-point system that is commonly used, simplified a bit so that I can quickly note the handle, called shot, actual shot and score while in the middle of a match.  I break shots into draw, takeout and guard.  Tap-backs I am qualifying as draws.

For draw the scoring breakdown is 4 points for the shot made as called, 3 for being close (within a few feet), 2 for getting the weight OR the line fairly good, 1 for the stone being basically somewhere in play, and 0 for a hog, flash, or something way off (like if a draw to the back 12 comes out as a guard). 

Guards are similar to draws, although depending on the situation I may give myself a zero just for getting it in the house.

Takeouts are a bit tougher to explain…basically 4 points for the shot as called, a zero if the stone misses, 1 if the stone misses and sticks around, 3 if the shot is close but not quite (no roll on a hit-and-roll or losing the shooter on a hit-and-stick).  I’m not sure where a 2 comes in.  I’ll know it when I see it.

In any case, here are the current stats:

You can view the full spreadsheet, containing shot-by-shot breakdowns and point totals by clicking here (opens in new window).  If you have any ideas for other ways to cut the data, let me know and I’ll incorporate them.

There and Back Again…

Monday, April 9th, 2007

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We made it back from our adventure in one piece.  I am pleased to return to a nation that uses civilized toilets.

Erstwhile updates shall hereby commence during the next few days.