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:

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.

Dear [Elected officials who have some sway over the funding of my kid’s school],

My daughter’s school is in the middle of its annual fundraiser. I’d like to encourage you to support funding public education at a level where this is no longer necessary or to make a donation or purchase through the site yourself: [URL for fundraising site]

Respectfully,
Nick Bergus

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.

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.”

A Twitter tit for Facebook tat is a win for Apple

Yesterday, Twitter cut Instagram’s API access that had allowed Instagram users to easily connect to the people they followed on Twitter on the photography network. Dan Frommer suggests it was payback for Instagram’s soon-to-be owner Facebook for blocking Twitter’s ability to let its users look up their Facebook friend on Twitter.

Users’ social graphs are valuable to social networks. Allowing users to find their friends on other services benefits the users, but it also benefits social networks by making them somewhat of a canonical list of your Internet friends. But when one network grows large enough to challenge another network, the interest changes to preventing users from moving easily to the new service.

Now here’s where I make a wild speculation there might not be evidence for: do these moves actually cede power to Apple? Maybe Apple, which has shown its social-network ineptitude, doesn’t care. But Apple’s iOS 6 (and, I believe, a future OS X Mountain Lion update) integrates Facebook, Twitter and contacts, making it, perhaps the way millions of iPad, iPhone, iPod Touch and Mac users move between and integrate the two services.

Corporations paying more than customers

Marco Arment on the acquisition of a couple software companies, and his own ability to keep Instapaper independent:

If you want to keep the software and services around that you enjoy, do what you can to make their businesses successful enough that it’s more attractive to keep running them than to be hired by a big tech company.

The companies he mentions both sold paid Mac and iOS apps (Pulp, Wallet and Sparrow). The problem users face in this space strikes me as similar to the another point Arment made about advertisers outbidding users for their own attention.

I don’t know what Sparrow’s expected, but they knew they were competing with free when they built a paid Gmail client. Users bought the software. Development was still killed. How can users compete with that?

Update:
Rian van der Merwe writes a similar thing, more eloquently than I:

But… that’s what I did. I paid full price for every version of the Sparrow app I could find. I told everyone who would listen to buy it. I couldn’t have given them more money even if I wanted to. So, as a customer, what more could I have done to keep them running independently?

This is the core of the disappointment that many of us feel with the Sparrow acquisition. It’s not about the $15 or less we spent on the apps. It’s not about the team’s well-deserved payout. It’s about the loss of faith in a philosophy that we thought was a sustainable way to ensure a healthy future for independent software development, where most innovation happens.

Signing up to be sold out

Following my Facebook sex lube incident, I’ve become the posterboy for, first, a giant tub of lube, then the future of advertising, then for Facebook’s attempts to make money with its data and then for people who sued Facebook and sorta-but-not-really won $10 million in a settlement.

I wrote in my post “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.”

Some people disagreed. Here’s one:

I’d totally disagree, you don’t sign up for that. Surely the lawsuit proves this, users do NOT sign up to sell adverts.

First, it’s pretty clear that Facebook’s terms of service say that you sign up for exactly that.

10. About Advertisements and Other Commercial Content Served or Enhanced by Facebook

Our goal is to deliver ads and commercial content that are valuable to our users and advertisers. In order to help us do that, you agree to the following:
1. You can use your privacy settings to limit how your name and profile picture may be associated with commercial, sponsored, or related content (such as a brand you like) served or enhanced by us. You give us permission to use your name and profile picture in connection with that content, subject to the limits you place.
2. We do not give your content or information to advertisers without your consent.
3. You understand that we may not always identify paid services and communications as such.

That’s part of the problem. Facebook’s lawyers write the terms, and users only have the choice to not use the service if they don’t agree to them.

Second, the lawsuit, and its settlement don’t prove that you don’t sign up for that, either. In fact, the lawsuit proves nothing except that Facebook is willing to settle lawsuits.

It was an settlement in which, I’m sure, Facebook admits no wrongdoing. Companies settle for a multitude of reasons, including to avoid admitting wrong doing, to avoid a bad image from public trials, and to avoid setting legal precedents. It’s possible that a trial would have found that Facebook’s sponsored stories violate some right or law, but by settling, Facebook has avoided letting that become established; it’s still, I believe, an open question.

This isn’t to say that I don’t agree with the writer’s conclusion. Facebook is a “hungry information monster that wants nothing more than to take all your details, package them up and sell them on.” Users need to be aware of that and act accordingly. I don’t think users have to just grin and bear it. I wrote, long before the sex lube incident, that Facebook isn’t free.

Update: Today, The New York Times reported in a story by Somini Sengupta, the reporter who put me on A1:

Facebook has agreed to make it clear to users that when they click to like a product on Facebook, their names and photos can be used to plug the product. They will also be given a chance to decline the opportunity to be unpaid endorsers.

So, Facebook still has the right to use your content as ads, it’s just required to tell be slightly more upfront about it.