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’s some in no particular order:

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.

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.

The International Sandwich Hall of Fame

For a long time, because these are the kinds of things I think and worry about, I’ve wondered what would be enshrined at a hall of fame for sandwiches. And, on a long drive back from vacation following the consumption of several cheese steaks, I had some time to nail it down.

First, the criteria for candidacy:

The inductee must be a sandwich. It must involve bread with a filling. This seems obvious, but with the growth of paleo, gluten-free diets, sandwich shops selling wraps, and other trends, it’s important to be explicit. Sandwiches that use rolls or other forms of bread instead of sliced bread and open-faced sandwiches that use a single slice of bread will be considered for inclusion. “Flat bread,” the term some restaurants seem to be adopting because they don’t want to say they serve pizza, is not a sandwich.

The inductee must be an all-time-great. No second-tier, or fad sandwiches will be inducted. When looking down the list of inductees, you should see a list of sandwiches that are a who’s who of the world’s sandwiches.

The inductee should have cultural significance. While we consider the sandwich’s taste, we’re not interested in amazing-tasting sandwiches that no one has ever heard of or eaten. Regional specialties are eligible (and, often, strong candidates).

The inductee must be a canonical version of the sandwich, though some variations are acceptable.  While many sandwiches are so good that they’ve spawned their own variations, the considered sandwich must be a canonical version, not a entire class of sandwiches. This, perhaps, the hardest part to lay out, but generally means that the composition of the sandwich should be understood by its name. So while hoagies or po’ boys might be mighty fine sandwiches, they are, in the end, platforms that require some explanation; you can’t simply walk into a sandwich shop, order “a hoagie” and know what exactly you’ll get. A cheeseburger, while there exist infinite variations, is understood to be a bun, a beef patty and melted cheese. This is similar how the martini might be inducted into a cocktail hall of fame. Leaving aside the gin verses vodka debate, the drink would be inducted as a whole, and a martini garnished with a twist would not be inducted separately from a martini garnished with olive. The hall is not interested in defining the One True Version of a sandwich, but, rather, the acceptable parameters for a sandwich with a specific name.

And now, the inaugural class of the International Sandwich Hall of Fame:

Reuben: rye bread, corned beef, sauerkraut, Swiss cheese, thousand island or Russian dressing

Cheese steak: Italian roll; thinly sliced beef; white American, provolone or Cheez Whiz; fried onions are optional, though encouraged

BLT: bacon, lettuce, tomato and mayonnaise

Peanut Butter and Jelly: smooth or crunchy peanut butter, strawberry or grape jelly, white or wheat sandwich bread

Cheeseburger: bun; beef patty; Cheddar or American cheese; ketchup, mustard, mayonnaise, lettuce, tomato, onion and pickle are optional

What would you add?

Microsoft could make the new Apple ads

Ken Segall on Apple’s new Mac ads that have been panned by Apple loyalists:

The idea of creating a “character” from an Apple employee is… well…. damn, I can’t even say this without feeling awful… it feels like something Best Buy would do. Maybe even Dell.

I think this is the problem. When I first saw them, I thought they could easily be Microsoft ads.

Even if the ads appeal to “people who’ve never bought a Mac but are thinking about buying their first,” which John Gruber says should be the test, there are ways to appeal to that segment and to current users that don’t stoop to the normally low comedic standards of the advertising industry.

I’m not a Mac owner, though if I bought a new computer today, it would most likely be a Mac. For what it’s worth, I think the ads are dumb, but they wouldn’t make a difference to me one way or the other. I asked my wife, also not a Mac owner and less likely than I to be one, what she thought when “Mayday” came on during a break in the Olympics last night. Her response: “I thought it was dumb that a guy felt he could make up for forgetting an anniversary making a video that didn’t take any work.”

Simple sports

Roller derby is a complicated game with a set of rules that gets bigger and more complex with every iteration. Every time I explain the game to a person who has never seen a bout, I’m reminded how complex it is. And I wonder about roller derby’s ability to attract a larger and mainstream audience. And I worry that our complex rules are a huge contributing factor to its niche status.

Derby, once you understand how to read it, is as dramatic as any other sport.

But how do you teach people to read it if they don’t understand the rules? How do you explain to a newbie, for example, cutting rules? If you cut in front of two skaters, it’s a major. If you cut one, it’s a minor. Unless that person is ahead of everyone else and on the other team, then it’s a major. Except if she’s so far ahead that she’s out of play, then it’s nothing. (Let’s not even get into the beast that is the point-scorer-changing star pass, which gives referees nightmares.)

Now, I’ve been warned about making analogies to and using examples from other sports, but stick with me.

Every summer, I go see the local AAA affiliate of the Los Angeles Angles of Anaheim of Southern California of the United States. I drink beer, shout at players and umpires and have a good time. I follow the Phillies and am happy when they win and sad when they lose.

Still, I have no idea how the infield-fly rule works. And I don’t have a great grasp of dropped third strikes and foul-tip outs.

And then there’s hockey, which I watch live once or twice a year. I honestly have no idea what you can and cannot do.

But I understand the way to keep score. And that, for most fans, is enough to convey the drama that attracts us to sports.

Terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad referee

For the last 17 months, I’ve been roller skating in counter-clockwise circles around women hitting each other while also skating in counter-clockwise circles, blowing a whistle and shouting projecting at them.

Except not really.

For the first several of those month, you could barely call what I was doing roller skating. It was mostly falling with some rolling between. And there were times when I’d find an excuse to skip practice, or show up late because I was goddamned discouraged and my level of suck.

And, even when I refereed my first bout after six of those months, I didn’t really do much whistle blowing or penalty calling. And I still remember one of the few penalties I did call being totally and completely wrong. Yes, I sucked.

I spent months getting better, reading the rules, watching an sweaty women ram into each other an uncountable number of times, practicing, improving. Go persistence.

And it paid off. I got better. I got to officiate the first WFTDA-sanction bout in Iowa. And the first WFTDA-sanctioned bout featuring all Iowa teams. And the first bout, also WFTDA-sanctioned, between Des Moines’ two leagues. I was accepted to officiate a tournament in Milwaukee in June. And it has made me feel like hot shit. Go me.

Thing is, I still suck.

Feedback from a skater following a recent bout : “From my vantage point, it looked like you often waited for other refs to make calls on penalties it seemed you were looking right at.”

But she’s wrong. I wasn’t waiting for other refs to make the calls. It was worse than that. Not only were my calls were just slow, I was so unaware that I didn’t know other referees were making the same call. Because I suck.

Yes, 17 months of skating and falling down, reading rules and getting confused, scrimmaging and bouting, I still miss a ton of action, and am slow of the calls I make. But that’s OK. I’m going to take my crappy officiating across the Midwest and I’ll get better. Never perfect, but better. Because persistence pays off.

How I became Amazon’s pitchman for a 55-gallon drum of personal lubricant on Facebook

My career as a personal-lubricant pitchman started with a favorited tweet on Stellar that linked to Amazon where, for just $1,495, anyone could purchase a 55-gallon drum of Passion Natural water-based lubricant (and save 46 percent off list!).

“What are you going to do with all this lube?! Wrestling match? Biggest adult party ever?” the pitch for the 522-pound tub went. “If you are looking for a simply jaw-dropping amount of lube, Passion Natural Water-Based Lubricant is ready to get the fun started with this 55 gallon drum! With its superb formula you will have a natural feel that keeps you moist longer and also works great with all toy materials. Easily washes away with warm water and mild soap. You may never run out of lube again!”

While it isn’t eligible for free Amazon Prime shipping, freight is a reasonable $20.95. There were entertaining customer reviews, often the best part of the odd products for sale on Amazon, and, since it was Valentine’s Day, it was timely.

Amused, I posted it to Facebook with the line “A 55-gallon drum of lube on Amazon. For Valentine’s Day. And every day. For the rest of your life.” And then I went on with my life.

A week later, a friend posts a screen capture and tells me that my post has been showing up next to his news feed as a sponsored story, meaning Amazon is paying Facebook to highlight my link to a giant tub of personal lubricant.

Other people start reporting that they’re seeing it, too. A fellow roller derby referee. A former employee of a magazine I still write for. My co-worker’s wife. They’re not seeing just once, but regularly. Said one friend: “It has shown up as one on mine every single time I log in.”

I’m partially amused that Amazon is paying for this, but I’m also sorta annoyed. Of course Facebook is happily selling me out to advertisers. That’s its business. That’s what you sign up for when make an account.

But in the context of a sponsored story, some of the context in which it was a joke is lost, and I’ve started to wonder how many people now see me as the pitchman for a 55-gallon drum of lube.