Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Tick, Tock: A (Mostly) English Soccer Primer

As the resident soccer expert here (cough!), I can empathize with little brother and his state of perplexity regarding the World's Game, i.e. soccer, nee football, aka footie, aka futbol.

I, too, was once a heathen unbeliever. I had the same experience that Robert T had regarding The Beautiful Game. We played it exactly once in high school gym class, knowing only that we could not pick it up unless we were the goalie (we think!). We did not know that you could actually pick the ball up for a throw-in after it went out-of-bounds, mainly because we were not given any out-of-bounds indicators.

We believed soccer was what those stupid Europeans did because they did not know how to play "real" football, aka "pointyball" to the soccer snobs. Little did we know that the South americans, Africans, Asians, and virtually every other country also played this game!

I started to become more aware of it through my children, as each one wanted to play since all their friends did. They started at the rec level, and progressed through to the club/travel teams. Also along the way they played indoor soccer, sort of hockey without sticks and skates, but with much more scoring than outdoor soccer. And hockey.

A professional soccer match is 90 minutes, more but not less, with each half being 45 minutes or thereabouts. Robert T's main concern is the "untimed" nature of the game, as he sees it. That quirk only exists at the professional level. At all other levels the clock is stopped for injuries, goals, and disciplinary actions (red or yellow cards). The game then resumes upon the official's signal, "and away we go", to quote Jackie Gleason (research project for MegaByte).

At the professional level, all power resides in the center official (referee) to determine not only what calls are to be made (fouls, out-of-bounds, etc.) but also what calls are not to be made (attempts to draw a foul by flopping, or overruling a call by the referee's assistant (formerly: linesman).

The center official is the sole determiner of how much, if any, stoppage time is added to the end of each playing period. Stoppage time (aka extra time, but not overtime) is given for things that normally would stop the clock, such as goals, disciplinary actions, warnings about time-wasting, penalty kicks, and the like. Instead of stopping the clock the match official wears two watches in most cases. One watch keeps the running time of each period; the other is actually stopped and started by the referee as deemed necessary, which is how he determines how much time should be added. You should know that if your team is behind, the added time is never enough, and is always way too much if your team is ahead.

As to why the clock is not stopped, it does not say in the rules, excuse me, the laws of the game, as they are officially known.

If there are further delays in stoppage time, the referee may add additional time to the announced stoppage time; this is known as Added Extra Time (AET in the box score if a goal is scored or a card is given out).

If a goal is scored in stoppage time, it may be recorded in various ways in the box score, depending upon who is doing the write-up: (in the example below, Handsome Son scores a goal in stoppage time):

Handsome Son (90)


Handsome Son (93)


Handsome Son (90+3)


Handsome Son (93 AET)

The number designates the minute in which the goal was scored. If a goal comes moments before the referee is set to blow his whistle to end the match, it is reported by those wonderful wordsmiths, the British) as "Handsome Son scored a goal at the death as Arsenal shocked Manchester United 1-nil at the Emirates on Saturday."

The Emirates is the new stadium wherein Arsenal F.C. play their home matches, after many years at Highbury, a mile or so away, which is now an office and condo development.

"Nil" is the proper soccer term for a team not scoring a goal in a match; a 0-0 score is a nil-draw; a 1-1 match is a score-draw.

Various terms it is handy to know in order to make others think you know what you are about when it comes to soccer:

Draw - what we call a tie game, not to be confused with a "tie", meaning a match still to be played (Arsenal have a mouth-watering tie at Liverpool Saturday next (a week from Saturday)

Result - a win or draw ("We played hard and got a result, which is what we hoped for on the road.")

Training - soccer players do not practice, they train

Pitch - what we call the playing field

Match - what we call a game

Striker - what we call a forward, the main job of which is to score the goals

Boot - a soccer shoe, also what the Brits call the trunk of a car

Onion bag - slang term for the net, used quite often by ESPN's Tommy Smythe

Manager - what we call a coach

Chanting/singing - what the soccer fan does instead of having the type of cheerleader-directed organized cheering we are familiar with at football and basketball games; they may be directed both for an against an individual player, or toward the team as a whole. many are very, shall we say, colorful, in nature. Liverpool fans, at all matches home or away, pledge their support by singing "You'll Never Walk Alone", written by Liverpool fan Gerry Marsden of Gerry and the Pacemakers fame (another MegaByte research project). It is truly an amazing scene, very moving, as the entire crowd stand and sing the song. It gives me chills when I hear it, and I am not a Liverpool supporter.

The Beautiful Game - what soccer is when it is played as a free-flowing game, with skilled passing and defending and wondrous goals being scored. It is also known as being "on song" when a team does it for long periods of a match.

Cynical - a description of an outmanned team whose game plan is to bunker in on defense in an effort to contain a superior team's offense by purposeful fouling, clogging the passing lanes, and making almost no attempt to run an offense of their own. Cynical teams play for a draw and hope to get a lucky break to score and take away a 1-0 win. Scoring a goal in such a manner is called "against the run of play".

Howler - a horrendous gaffe, usually made by a goalie (keeper) that results in an opponent scoring a goal, when by all rights the keeper should have made an easy stop. Witness England's Robert Green gifting the USA an easy goal in their recent World Cup match, for which he was (rightly) excoriated by the British sporting press.

Table - the league table is what we call the standings

The Prem - the Premiership, aka the English Premier League, the top level of soccer in England, and one of the top leagues in the world

Promotion/Relegation - something virtually unknown/unexperienced by the average american sports fan: a team finishing in the top spot (or two, depending on the league) at the end of the regular season automatically qualifies to go up to the next level for the following season, as well as the winner of a playoff between the third through sixth place teams (again, depending on the league). They are thus "promoted". A team finishing at the bottom (last one to four places, depending on the league) are relegated (sent down) to the next lower division, making way for the promoted teams. At the highest level, promotion and relegation are worth millions of dollars (well, pounds sterling, to be truthful) to each team.

Fixtures - what we call the schedule

F.C. (or FC) - literally, Football Club, as in Arsenal F.C.

If you ever decide to follow an English team, the Arsenal should be your choice!

Retail for the masses

I read recently an article as to the least and most favorite stores listed by consumers. Being in the retail industry, this greatly intrigued me. As I read however, the article was not what it claimed it would be but more of a complaint list about stores in general.

I have been a retail manager for nearly thirty years. In this blog I long ago decided I would neither mention my company by name, promote it or complain about it. It does however give me insight into how retailers do business in this day and age and one of the aspects of my company is they truly want a customer service ethic in their staffs. If you don't get it it is more the fault of that particular store than the company as a whole.

That being said, one of the complaints listed in the article was the lack of customer service. The author stated stores do nothing more than train cashiers and spies to catch thieves. Also stated was retailers cut staff and only bring in lower quality merchandise to keep prices low.

Well, mister author of the article, that has happened as a direct result of what the consumer has wanted over the years. Consumers long ago made the decision to shop at places that had the cheapest prices. Unfortunately, cheaper prices means lower quality. Years ago I worked for an independent hardware store. People would routinely come in to get our advise on how to fix a problem, kill a weed, grow grass or paint their house. They would then leave and go to the big-box retailer and buy a product that was cheaper, not spending their dollars with us. This was a common trend which is why the local hardware store was forced to go out of business. Large retailers are able to buy cheaper in bulk than can a local business but that doesn't mean they put their dollars into better product. Then the local guy is there to pick up the pieces when things go wrong, and they do that a lot.

As for service? The consumer doesn't want service. They want someone to complain to. They buy cheap goods and want someone to complain to when the shirt rips, fades or the part fails. Customers buy at mass marketers because the price is cheap. I had a customer that complained yesterday that he was unable to use a coupon that expired two months ago. Customers only want what they want. If you bought a cable six months ago, no you can't return it, it now belongs to you and not my store. I don't care it you have a receipt. It's yours, sell it at a yard sale.

Even lower pricing doesn't stop the flow of thievery. Retail theft runs in the billions and billions of dollars yearly. Stores are forced to combat this in some manner and it invariably involves electronic deterrents and staff that must work to keep the merchandise inside the store.

Consumers have made their choices and now must learn to live with the consequences. If you want service, go to a store that offers it but don't be rude or argumentative to their staff. They are there to help you and solve your issues. Remember they are your problems, not theirs. Don't make it out to be their fault.

As for the painting thing: if you ever actually read the back of a paint can and did what the manufacturers say to do to apply paint properly, I'll bet 75% of people would then hire a painter. Read a paint can someday, the instructions are there for a reason.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

FIFA Fi Fo Fum

Growing up I played many sports, however I was never a dominant athlete. But to this day sports holds a great interest for me. With the World Cup thrust upon us in the past few weeks I have done something I never thought I would do. I actually watched a soccer game or two.

Now, being a novice I have no idea of what the rules actually are. I grew up in and age where no one played the game, no schools had even a club team and any knowledge of the sport was left to gym class. Leaving learning up to gym class is about the same a hoping the Post Office gets it right. Likely, it won't happen. As soccer, or shall I say, futball has taken hold it was originally a game played by those who were not able to make the teams for more legitimate sports. Over the years that has changed and some of the better athletes in schools have taken to the game. Hence, as I have aged, soccer has crept into noteworthiness.

This past week I was able to watch games alongside the soccer aficionado North of 50 and one of his nephews. Said N of 50 has played and coached for years even into his fifth decade. Nephew has played extensively and seems to know the game in and out. Of course, since I know virtually nothing of the game I must take their word for the fact that they know what they are talking about.

First off, I don't see a reason to have a timed sport that when time expires the game is not over. Soccer has an untimed overtime. It's idea is there is lost time for things like injuries and penalty cards. Here's a novel idea, stop the clock. Most of what I watched was what I expected, seemingly random kicks of the ball sending it up and down the field. It wasn't until I started relating it to hockey that it seemed to make any sense at all. Germany was the only team I saw that seemed to have any type of coordinated offense. They used a short, tight 'passing' game to move the ball in close. A strategy, I surmised.

For having the world in its grasp I was disappointed in the quality of the announcers. This is soccer's biggest stage and the soccer elite have been trying to build it up in the US of A for many years. I was hoping for more detailed explanations of strategies and was left flat with none forthcoming. Fortunately for me I had N of 50 and nephew there to help me through some of the finer points.

All in all it was interesting as it is something I have never watched before. I have my criticisms such as athletes flopping around like a wounded duck at the slightest 'foul'. If that happened in American football every player would be flat on his back at the end of each play. Suck it up and play, boys! No blood no foul. I was also struck by the quality of officiating. For the biggest stage to have some of the poor calls is unacceptable. This isn't high school. You have an entire globe of referees to pick from. Pick the right ones.

Lastly, I doubt that this will ever become a game I will be interested in more than once every four years. It's like the Olympics, some of it is entertaining but I don't watch the slalom events more than twice a decade. I'll root for the US and hope for a positive outcome.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Give us your best guess

The recent news concerning the oil mess in the gulf gives me another burst of ammunition concerning scale. Their issue is how much oil is spewing from the broken pipe in the sea floor? The problem is, no one actually knows. It's a matter of scale that, either no one can wrap their brain around, or, the equipment tasked to measure the flow is not capable of doing so accurately. That is assuming the equipment is working, or that it actually exists in the first place.

We see this problem in nearly all areas in our daily lives. Consider this. How often do you hear about a publicly funded project, a building repair let's say that actually comes in on time and at budget? It is a feat rarely accomplished. Often the time frame proves unwieldy or the price has skyrocketed beyond belief. If the companies that actually do this for a living can't get the estimates correct, how can we trust the measurements for anything that gets done? Aren't they the 'experts' after all?

How can a company such as Boeing/General Dynamics et al, that is in the defense contracting business for decades not be able to project the costs of producing a 'next generation fighter'? Every ten years it seems the next plane is offered and when it is finally produced it is billions and billions (say that like Carl Sagan) over cost. What have they learned about building these planes in the past? Apparently nothing at least respectful of accounting.

Perhaps no one actually keeps track of how much it cost to 'do it the last time'. Is it possible that there is no way to accurately track costs on such a scale? It is one thing to be off three to five percent on cost projections but to have a project fifty or more percent above a bid is absurd. If you submit a bid at a particular cost shouldn't you have to come in at that cost? If you can't, it shouldn't cost the taxpayers the balance, it should come from the coffers of the company that is doing the work. If the bid was wrong, that's a 'your problem'. How much would we save by doing business that way? Well, RT, the contractor would just cut corners to come under price, you say. I would rather pay for inspectors that dog their heels daily than pay for the billions and billions of cost overruns on all these projects. I'm fairly certain it would be cost effective in the long run. If you can't project the accurate costs of a project that costs billions of dollars how can you even be certain the monetary value of the company that is producing the work? Why would I trust that number?

It's likely the way it is done currently is a group sits in a large room with a big conference table and just guesses at what the number is. The bigger the table the more potent they feel. Either that or they throw darts. Quite frankly, billions and billions doesn't make sense to the brain and therefore the number becomes meaningless which is something the brain can easily grasp. There are numbers and sizes that are just too large for the brain to comprehend.

That leads to the next question, where is all the missing matter in the universe? I'm sure we have a great answer to that one. (Dark matter and dark energy, it's dark so you can't see it. That's a safe out isn't it?)

Saturday, June 12, 2010

The Property Line

My next door neighbor, I'll call him Cleveland as that is from whence he hails, has decided to erect a fence around his yard. The old expression is a good fence makes good neighbors. I don't know that I completely agree with the logic, but...

Certain fences have specific uses. If you have a swimming pool you must have it protected by a fence, and a specific type at that. If you live in a sub-division you have to get approval to put one up. I doubt that Cleveland will go that route. He is a singular minded fellow with a disdain for seeking approvals. Other fences are useful as they keep some things in, such as animals on a farm. You can't have packs or herds of goats, pigs and cows running wild across rural America.

Other fences keep things out. Some keep out thieves while keeping your property inside and protected. It doesn't keep things dry, however. Many older urban areas have fences both front and back. Some poorer areas do as well, and in much of the video seen on 'Cops'. When you think of those, it doesn't keep the bad guys out but it does make for some interesting chase scenes.

Fences run the gamut of style and design from tall and extravagant to short and wiry. It seems no matter what type one decides on there will be the never-ending maintenance and upkeep. It has to be washed, stained, painted and repaired.

I wish Cleveland well with his upcoming venture, one which I likely will get sucked into helping with. He is a good neighbor who doesn't need a fence to be one.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

The Biggest challenge

The latest fad that has gripped the national television audience for much of the last decade is the proliferation of reality shows. With the coming of Survivor the door was open. Although most of these have very little to do with reality, the term stuck.

I watch only a few of these as most seem to be nothing more than wannabees working their way up the ladder. Not that I hold that completely against them. In this world you do what you have to do to get to where you want to go. That for me is just not interesting. Two that I do enjoy are Survivor and Big Brother. Those shows seem to be more about game play and strategy. Many of the other shows are about getting your name out there and hooking up.

Then, there is The Biggest Loser. If there was a show that was about reality this is it. I began watching mostly due to My Beloved. She likes these programs. Then a funny thing happened, I got hooked. TBL is more than just a game show for the overweight. It is about people changing their lives; its about saving their lives. I have always believed most of the population that is obese is because they want to be. Not that they want to be fat, they just don't want to do anything about it.

For years we have listened to media reports and studies with anecdotal evidence that told us its not our fault we are fat (as a population). I have contended if you stay in motion you are less likely to put on weight. Now, I am not the poster boy for fitness however I am within tolerable ranges for my age and height. This show has proven that. Every contestant has lost huge amounts of weight and for the first time in years hold their lives again in their own hands. They have done it with exercise and not eating the calorie intake of a third world nation at each meal.

It's not always easy to make changes in your life for the better. I can sympathize as I remember the challenge it was eight years ago when I quit smoking. It was one of the hardest things I ever did. But I did it. After the show the contestants must go home and learn to live a new life. Many keep the weight off, some do not. They got that way because they lied to themselves. They couldn't do this or they couldn't do that, or it's not my fault because I have this condition. The true condition was, they quit, plain and simple. If you look at photos of the US population from the forties and fifties we were not a fat people. We did this to ourselves, no excuses.

If you want to be inspired The Biggest Loser is a show that will challenge you to do things you didn't think you could. It's not just about weight it's about all the challenges in life. Life's not easy, but then no one said it would be.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Classics or bore?

As I grow older I have tried to expand my horizons as much as possible. Things from the past that I had neither the time nor interest in seem to hold a new allure. Sainted Mother had in her collection an incomplete set of books titled 'Collectors Club'. They are reworks or translations of classic literature. (Obviously, something no self-respecting thirteen year old would be caught dead reading.) In her own hand the earliest date I have seen inscribed on the inside cover is circa 1942. There's something about just seeing her handwriting that makes me smile.

I have begun to read the books of her collection. I started about two years ago, reading one of these, then moving to a contemporary book, then returning to one of these works. To date I have read five in total with one that will likely not be finished.

The works completed are: The Iliad and The Odyssey, both by Homer; Two Years Before the Mast by Dana; Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe and lastly, Essays and New Atlantis by Francis Bacon. The allure of Iliad and Odyssey are easy to understand as they both hearken back to adventure and my days as a youth. As a youngster I always had trouble remembering what gods were whom and were they Greek or Roman. These gave me a better understanding of their history. (No quizzes allowed to see what I retained). The third was Two Years Before the Mast. I had never heard of it and was intrigued simply by the title. It is a seafaring adventure set in the New World and life aboard a sailing ship. I tackled Robinson Crusoe to see how the work translated to the movies I had seen growing up. These four were insightful to some extent though the style in which they are written is difficult to read as modern writing is in the current vernacular and style. Reading too quickly will inevitably cause one to go back and reread. Essays and New Atlantis was more difficult as the translation was plodding and structure hard to follow. However, I managed my way through and would see the insights the author was working to espouse though much does not translate to modern life although some kernels of truth remain. Lastly, I have tried to get through Poems and Paradise Lost by Milton. I believe I will be giving up on this as it is about as boring a book as I have ever read and I am convinced I will gain nothing from it.

I have decided that most of these works are not worth the time of the average reader. The Iliad and Odyssey are often taught in school because they are classics. If you want to hold the students attentions I would rather have them read something contemporary. You won't learn anything from something that bores you to tears. It won't make you think which is the reason you are in school to begin with. Classic works should be left for college English majors and other scholarly pursuits. If one wants to read them later in life, as I, let them do it at their own leisure.

One last attempt I will be making is a work titled Old Goriot by Honore De Balzac. I had never heard of either the title or author. So far the first ten pages have promise. I'll let you know.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Tales of The Queen

In my days of early fatherhood, Perfect Wife and I would take the Perfect Children to the Independence Day parade in the nearby suburb of Bexley. The good citizens of said community would dutifully and enthusiastically put on a worthy display, and all would enjoy. We would drive over to the home of my best friend's parents, park, unload, and visit with him and his parents before strolling a couple blocks to our normal viewing site. Afterward we would traverse back to their house and feast on all manner of delectable brunch items.

The surname of my friend was King, and our youngest, Cute Boy (later Handsome Son) was of a sufficiently young age to know a King and a Queen went together even if he did not know their names, and so he would say we were going to visit the King and Queen. They both got a kick out of that.

Sadly, The Queen passed away on Sunday, at age 84, married just shy of 61 years. She was suffering from dementia, a terrible disease.

My main recollections of The Queen were as a housewife, but I found out via her obituary she was a graduate of The Ohio State University, Class of '47, which was somewhat unusual back in those days. I do not know what her degree was in, but it certainly could have been in Talking, because she could really talk!

I coached baseball in the summers with her son, whom I have known since high school. I would take the bus to a stop two blocks from his house, complete with duffel bag for the uniform, and change clothes. The Queen always asked if I wanted anything to eat. I would usually say just a sandwich, but inevitably she would have a meal waiting for me when I came down dressed like a baseball coach. She was always a kind and gracious lady, totally devoted to her husband and son. She was a mother to the world, and everyone was a friend from the moment she met you. She and her husband would travel around town with us watching our high school baseball games, both the ones we played in and the ones we later coached. She always had a positive word no matter how things were going.

Today during and after the funeral service I heard a few more tales about The Queen. She and The King met on a blind date. He said she liked how his uniform looked on him; he liked how she looked in her convertible. They clicked, and the two eventually became one.

Her son (I suppose he would be The Prince) told us that once in Houston during the summer (summers in Houston are horrible for heat and humidity) he decided to play golf, and she walked all 18 holes beside him in the heat and humidity. Another golf outing took place on a very hilly course in eastern Ohio, and again she went along with him. As he typically did, he sliced his tee shot on one hole into the right rough. As they were looking for his ball, she came across three she found for him. In the adjoining fairway. All were perfectly placed tee shots from three upset golfers who could not fathom how their drives landed in the fairway but they could not be found. Once The Prince realized what had happened, he had to explain to those nice men that his mother had picked up their balls and given them to him. She had not seen any other golfers around, so she thought they were "lost" balls. The men did get a laugh out of that one.

Her son also coached high school basketball for many years, and he explained how, when games got tight, her nerves would get the better of her. She would cheer harder and louder, and would flail her arms, occasionally (and obliviously) striking one or more people around her. Eventually home team fans began to clear the space around her to protect themselves!

Whenever they traveled they would map out their route to include any Catholic churches along the way, complete with Mass times, so they would not miss out on Mass, especially on Sunday. It got a little dicey in some of the more rural parts of the South where Catholic churches were very few and far between, but they would not be deterred.

When we went to the cemetery today, even though we came to the grave site by a different route, I realized she was to be laid to rest in the same section as my parents, and now whenever I go to see them and all the other relatives nearby, I will be able to go a few rows over and visit an old friend, and think on the good times we shared.

Requiescat in pace, Regina.