Parting advice from one roller derby referee

I’ve been officiating roller derby since 2011. Assuming something doesn’t happen between now and then, I’m scheduled to work my final game on Saturday. (Well, games since it’s a double header.)  I’ve had a good run, and I’m looking forward to working with a good bunch and closing out on a high note.

As I get ready to wrap up this four-year adventure, I’ve been thinking about what I’ve learned over my time, starting from when I fell down a lot and didn’t know what I was doing and ending when I fell down a lot and had a slightly better idea of what the hell I was doing, and what advice I might have for others. Here some in no particular order:

Travel
I don’t mean go to Cedar Rapids and Cedar Valley a few times a year when they’re looking for officials. I mean you should actively look for games you’re interested in working and find a contact. Apply to tournaments. Widen the radius you’re willing to travel. You’ll meet new people who offer different ways of doing things. You’ll expand the people you’re comfortable asking advice of. You’ll get new perspectives. You’ll be reassured in your skills and find things to get better at.

You need experience
There is no alternative to experience. I can feel my skills atrophying when I go even a few weeks without working a game.Reading rules is important. Thinking through wackadoo scenarios is aces. Talking with more experienced officials is key. But there is no substitute for getting out and doing it yourself. None.

Take the alt spot
It’s totally disappointing to not get the skating gig, but if you can swing it, take the alt slot. Someone always drops out, and you’ll get a chance to work. I guarantee. (BTW, you should always staff an alt.)

Look for reasons not to penalize
Our job is to keep the game fair. Sometimes that means issuing a penalty. Sometimes that means not. Sometimes the cleanest solution to a problem is to not issue a penalty.

See something, say something
Expulsion-worthy box entry? Mention it. Frantic scorekeeper not looking up as you prepare for the next jam? Don’t ignore it. Doesn’t mean you have to stop the game, but it’s easier to bring it up and let it go than to wish you’d said something earlier.

Trust each other
Everyone has a role and a job. Let them do it. You have a role and a job. Do it. Trust each other to get done what needs to get done and to communicate the information you need. Don’t second guess.

Be decisive
On the track, call the penalty or let it go. As the head referee, choose to overturn on official review or let it stand quickly. It sucks for everyone, and causes its own problems, if you hesitate or get all wishy washy.

Get fit
I wished I realized how valuable being in shape was earlier. Running, biking, cross-training or whatever will improve your stamina, flexibility, or whatever, and make you a better official since you’ll be better able to keep up, be mentally present and not wallowing in your own misery when that overtime jam hits. (Seriously, I didn’t join derby to feel unpleasant, but it pays off.)

You can always improve your skating
Always. You’ve been practicing walking since you were a baby and look at how good you are. Challenge yourself to skate better.

Be hungry
Thirst for a better understanding of the rules. Be disappointed when you don’t get the spot you want, but then go earn it. Demand opportunities and make them for yourself. Work to be the go-to for questions.

Ask questions
Ask your peers. Ask a mentor. Ask someone experienced you barely know. Ask in person. Ask on forums. Ask yourself at night. And seek the answers wherever you can.

This is more art than science
The rules may look like a set of instructions that are simple to follow (i.e., if this happens, issue this penalty), but they’re not. There is simply no way to write the rules to cover everything, and so much variation on action that simple metrics are often not possible. There is gray area that you, as an official, have to make a ruling on. At what point do two arms go from “crossed” to “linked”? How long can a player block another without moving counterclockwise before it’s sustained? Well, make a call, ref.

IPhones, Iphones and iPhones

Cory Doctorow on Boing Boing:

This year, I resolve to minimize my use of incaps when writing about commercial products and companies. An incap changes a word into a logo, and has no place in journalism or commentary — it’s branding activity that colonizes everyday communications. It’s free advertising.

So: “Iphone,” not “iPhone” and “Paypal,” not “PayPal.”

No. Free advertising is writing breathlessly and non-critically about things like iPhones and PayPal.

Of course, this doesn’t extend to the names of people that traditionally take an incap, like “McDonald”; nor to companies that are named for people, like “McDonald’s.”

Because while using “iPhone” offers Apple free advertising, writing about “McDonald’s Big Mac” does not.

Nor does it extend to technical descriptions that include CamelCase, including VariableNames and WikipediaPolicies.

A Google search for “WikipediaPolicies” only turn up references to “Wikipedia:Policies” so I don’t know. The VariableNames example just makes sense.

As with every style question, the primary goal is clarity, and so it’s common sense to make some other exceptions: “WhoRepresents.com” not “Whorepresents.com.” But better to structure your writing to avoid ambiguity altogether: “Who Represents (www.whorepresents.com)”

I agree the primary goal is clarity, which is a reason to stick with “iPhone” over “Iphone”. The latter (a) looks dumb, (b) calls attention to itself instead of simply conveying meaning and (c) looks like “lphone” in some fonts (including the rarely used font Arial).

It’s a small thing, but it’s amazing how much incapping leaps off the page when you start paying attention to it.

Totally bizarre how when you start paying attention for something you start seeing it more.

(The Washington Post‘s Bill Walsh wants us to start sentences with “IPhone”. While I understand his logic, I think that looks really stupid.)

Why I don’t think Google was ever planning to release a maps app for iOS any time soon

John Gruber’s right: Google is probably lying when it says it was surprised by Apple’s decision to build a new Maps app not using Google’s data. But the advantage is that it’s plausible enough that they can let Apple stew for awhile (six months?) before it decides if it should release an iOS maps app without getting blamed for being dicks. Apple’s iOS Maps have been inferior to Android’s for years, because Google held the best stuff for itself, and the folks at Google are smart enough to know that Apple would have a hard time building a suitable mapping replacement in time for iOS 6.

So, by Google failing to release a maps app for iOS, the difference between iOS and Android maps is made greater (advantage Google).

If Google, on the other hand, had released its own maps app using its own data for iOS, like it did for YouTube when Apple dropped it from iOS 6, the story wouldn’t be “Apple’s Maps sucks.” Instead it’s “Apple’s Maps sucks, but Google Maps is fine, just install that.”

The latter doesn’t become the subject of a column in The New York Times from David Pogue. The former does.

Better tech writing

Brian Lam does technology writing differently at The Wirecutter. Instead of writing about every single dodad and gizmo, he writes “a list of great technology,” aiming to only tell readers what the best thing in a category is. Of course he wrote about the new iPhone:

These things are always the same. But better in small but meaningful ways. That’s all I remember from today’s news, really.

It’s also pretty much the same thing Apple says on their website and on the website of every other publication that writes about this stuff. It’s also pretty much what I wrote for the 4s and the 4 and the 3gs and the 3g, too. I feel despair when I am forced to write words that provide no service or additional value, but there’s a balancing act between saying what I think is useful and saying what people want to hear, so here we are.

Should you get one? If you want, sure.

His post is short, to the point, and not breathless, all of which is, sadly, refreshing in the world on online-gadget writing.