gambitch - now available in blue
Our constant efforts to reinvent ourselves reveal how much we fear our own images.

Saturday, September 25, 2004

Okay, time for something boring!

At the moment I'm on this old-ish game called War and Peace, made by what seems to be a Canadian company. They've got a bag of newer games, so this one really isn't that supported, plus I'm having a hard time finding sites that talk about the game apart from doing game reviews. I suppose it's hard when the game has a name like War and Peace that can appear in so many other contexts.

Just to let everyone in, roughly, the scope of the map is rather large - about half the world to be exact. The west edge is bounded somewhere around halfway down North America, though the whole Caribbean area is included. The east edge just excludes Bangladesh and most of Siberia. The game is set around the Napoleonic Ages, and it's supposedly a RTS game with lots of things stripped down, so there's a bit of science and technology, but no fancy stuff like new units.

I'm currently playing this fictional scenario where each of the six major powers in the game start with just one city and we're supposed to reach some objective we choose at the start of the game. Being the bored sort, I went for conquering all 150 cities on the game map. I know I'm going to win the game; I chickened and went for easy mode. The fun part is getting there and watching as one town after another falls under my onslaught.

I guess the game is made easier by the fact that the computer AI seems rather hopeless. Nobody's building navies - and I've a fleet of 10 heavy warships bombarding the hell out of every coastal city in the game (and there's a good number of them). I can find excuses for the rest, but the Ottoman Turks have a coastal city, so surely they thought about building a shipyard? Strangely enough, they haven't. So I'm having this real easy as nobody seems to be anywhere close to threatening my borders.

Part of it is also due to the fact I've yet to actually expand into continental Europe where everyone else is. I've claimed the Americas and I'm now on to capturing Africa. After that it's probably the Middle East and maybe a detour into India. Meanwhile all the other major powers struggle on continental Europe. The easy setting is a little bit too easy, maybe...

The game seems easy, so what's the point? Well, if the challenge is not to lose a single unit throughout the game (damaged units may be healed in hospitals), that should be something. Getting practice in the good old method of soak and strike is just my type of thing. Since I know the computer AI isn't going to generate that many soldiers to pour out against me, I can use the soak and strike approach to remove all the computer's units safely before I hit back.

I'm sure I've lost most of you at this point. So here's an effort to bring you back into it. I think the way a person plays a game tells very much about the way he thinks. I enjoy soak-and-strikes and building strong background structures because they give me a superb position when I run into my opponents. As a strategist I prefer positions of strength rather than taking glorious risks when they are unnecessary.

What do you prefer?

gambitch [ 3:57 PM]

Sometimes, when you feel that, at least for the moment, you're done playing all the games you wanted to play, singing all the songs you wanted to sing, seeing all the sights you wanted to see, you struggle to answer the next natural question - what's next?

I get times like that. And then I realize what's conspicuously missing in my life. Ironically, it's the one thing I try hardest to make do without. And that's people.

Problem is, by the time I realize it, it's too late.

Okay, end of random whine of the day.

On the bright side, it looks like Blogger's problem fixed itself. Probably a case of unrefreshed web content.

gambitch [ 1:31 PM]

Friday, September 24, 2004

I believe there's something wrong with Blogger's counting code somewhere. For a few days now I've been marked as having written 259 posts, but I think I've exceeded that already. Perhaps the Blogger people should check their code. It's not particularly serious, but it is an error after all.

There are two seemingly contradictory images of gambitch out there. One is gambitch the chess player, composed, deep in thought, working out the moves as he stares into the chessboard in front of him. On occasion he'd be quietly sipping a warm cup of tea. His face alternates between serene seriousness and sharp intensity.

Then there's gambitch the street fighter, violent and often rabid, impatient to wreck anything that lies in his way. A bit King of Fighters-like. He feels the blood flow in his veins, and summons the cursed flame which he commands at his fingertips almost at will. The symbol of uncontrolled destruction.

Sometimes I wonder which is the real gambitch. Or is the real gambitch a strange mix of the two?

I miss the days when I used to sit down and enjoy a warm cup of tea. The fragrance of the tea used to be a gentle waft that instantly cleared the nose and soothe it with minimal effort. Nowadays tea is no longer part of my diet. There are no reasons for this, just the casual explanation of a change in the way my life works. Still, I miss those days. Instead I now live on water. Well, not just water; I do eat too, and I do have other drinks like lime juice. But tea is no longer in my diet.

Will those days ever come again?

Sometimes I don't know whether there is any purpose to me ranting on and on about my views on "the profession". I'm not always doing it for the purpose, but I sometimes wonder whether all of it would come to anything at all. Old man's tales, some might call it, and then they'll brush it off and nobody remembers. And they'll live happily ever after.

Who gives a damn anyway?

Maybe it's just that I play a different game; or rather, I play the same game very differently. Some of the stuff I push can be mildly described as 'radical'. I don't think there's anything wrong with that. As far as I'm concerned I'm only wanting to teach people how the play the game the way it was meant to be played. It's partly about pushing your limits and challenging at the highest levels; it's definitely about raising the bar so people can start doing high jumps rather than limbo rocks.

You're not stupid. They just treat you as if you are.

The thing is, if the current situation was allowed to continue and people just went on to stagnate or even rot, it's only a matter of time before people stopped seeing the fun in this whole business. Yeah, it's fun to talk and banter a bit, but aren't you ever frustrated that you never seem to be hitting the higher notes, even when you sincerely believe you can? Have you ever wondered why? And have you ever thought about what the solution could possibly be? Most importantly, have you tried them out at all?

I don't know why I bother. It's so easy to just shut off and walk away, but I haven't done that and I don't know why. Maybe it's because I believe it's time for some big changes. Maybe it's because I'm just a random busybody. Maybe it's because I think I can do some of these things better than some of the other fellow idiots out there. We're all in this, for better or for worse. And just dropping it and walking away is not my way - unless I had really extreme reasons. But until those reasons come, I'm not about to walk away and take my little treasure trove with me.

What good is a man in possession of a skill, when the man chooses not to do anything purposeful with it?

gambitch [ 1:20 AM]

Thursday, September 23, 2004

It is official. Chip and Kim are the winners of The Amazing Race!

The two-hour finale was really something, and it would really take some effort to go through everything. There are just too many moments to remember from this two-hour episode that included two legs. Still, I'll try.

It all started from the hotel, where Colin and Christie found themselves with no money, having come last in the previous leg. As it turned out they had very little difficulty begging for enough money to survive this leg - the other teams were given only 17 Washingtons and that's easy to overcome. One person gave them enough pesos to cover the taxi trip to the airport, and that was just one person! As it turns out the teams were pretty close to each other, within about an hour apart I think.

The race for the cab was where Linda and Karen started to lose it. Ahead of Brandon and Nicole at the start of the leg, they fell behind after struggling to find a taxi and then ending up on a slow one. By the time they picked up their next clue, it was getting a bit too clear that they'd be on the second chartered flight. It was only a question of whether Colin and Christie would overtake both teams and squeeze onto the first flight. That would prove to be so vital. As it happened the models got there first, so Colin and Christie ended up on the second flight.

Which leads us nicely to the next part of this leg, in El Nido. There isn't really that much to write about searching for the flags, except that it showed us once again how ignorant the average American was. Colin admitted as much in the course of this, but it was amusing how all four teams wrongly picked the first flag. I don't know what country that flag represented, but to my memory it was probably some Pacific island or Caribbean country. It's unlikely to be an African country. But the really funny one was the Czech Republic flag. Colin actually fell for that one. It's not that odd, really, when even he admitted how ignorant he was. At least he realizes that and is unashamed to say it on national television. But that turned out quite costly because Linda and Karen, who were behind them, took a gamble and switched to another island, thus correctly finding the Philippines flag.

Oh, and I should perhaps briefly mention how Chip tried to fool Brandon and Nicole when he found the correct flag. Fortunately for Brandon he did not fall for the trick, and had no trouble keeping up with Chip. Chip made a wrong move there. His intention was understandable, but he should really not have bothered with it. Either that, or he ought to have acted better and speed off for the third island before changing course. Whatever it was, it just didn't really matter.

The Roadblock was quite something. Climbing up a rope 150 feet was quite a challenge! Brandon got there first after some good acting by Nicole to pretend she was having some trouble in the water. That helped Brandon pick up the clue faster than Chip and Kim. To be frank I was a little surprised she jumped into the water without so much as changing, but then I guess she wasn't wearing a swimsuit and there was no time to make all these adjustments, not with Chip and Kim in the water already. Anyway, good work by Nicole there. So the models pulled ahead going into the Roadblock, and this was just going to be straightforward for superfit Brandon. Nicole mumbled something about feeling guilty that Brandon is doing all the hard work. I don't know if she really feels that guilty. She was increasingly becoming a copy of Flo, albeit a little more adorable and much less whiny. Meanwhile Brandon was definitely being quite like Zach back in the third season. Even the hair is a little too similar.

Chip definitely struggled. I think this was too much for him, with all that body weight he needs to haul up the rope. Kim might have found it a little bit easier than Chip did; then again we've never really seen how muscular or otherwise she was. The trick with this Roadblock was that if you're too heavy and don't have the upper body strength to make up for it, you're going to struggle. Chip doesn't quite have enough of that, and definitely the Bowling Moms, who came in quite a bit later, don't quite have enough of that. They're just all too heavy.

And that just threw a lifeline to Colin and Christie, who were lagging behind Linda and Karen after that mistake with the Czech flag. They caught up just about enough to find Chip barely on the way down that rope, and Karen struggling somewhere midway. Colin being the uber-fit extreme sports freak he was, this posed no real challenge to him. At this point the tension was really rising, and we could hear Christie's voice break as Colin charged up the rope. Linda was just urging her partner on, hoping to prevent Colin from overtaking Karen. But it was not to be, and Colin got to the top first. They were home and alive for the final leg, and I was pumping my fist in triumph. I wanted these Texans in the Final Three, and they didn't disappoint.

(Strange, though, that every team who has finished last in a non-elimination leg has managed to survive the next leg without coming last.)

So Linda and Karen bowed out in a case of heartbreak in Asia. It was now all set up for the big dash home. And that's where we see the money appear. US$680 for this final leg - quite a sum if you ask me! Then again they would have needed it, considering where they're going. But first there's the little problem of getting out of those exotic islands in the western part of the Philippines. Small matter, that, because all the teams checked in at the Pitstop in the mid-afternoon, so they all departed in the small hours and the airport equalizer came into play.

No problems for all three teams, then, who got on to the flight into Calgary, Canada. Chip and Kim were clearly ill-prepared for this. They hadn't anticipated going into wintry Alberta from sunny Manila, and when they got out of the airport they were hardly dressed for the occasion. The younger ones clearly were better prepared in that department. They had the added advantage of getting into their taxis really quickly and building a meaningful headstart over the parents. After scaling to the top of the Continental Divide (with some whining from the girls thrown in - Kim fared so much better later in comparison as Chip struggled) the teams went back into the city proper and headed for the Detour.

This is where, thank you very much, Nicole goes into total hysteria. It all starts with Brandon picking Ride instead of Slide, not realizing how difficult it was going to be. Colin seemed pretty aware of how tough it was, being that slight bit more of an extreme sports freak than Christie was, which explains why they headed straight for Slide and a scary but fast luge course. Brandon didn't; you can blame Nicole for not whining loudly enough because it seems she wanted to do Slide. The consequence was a nightmare for the beauty queen down the course. That bike must have been pretty hard to control, but she totally freaked out and broke down. Shades of Flo, eh? So what does Brandon do? Console her and graciously give up. What a Zach. Switching to Slide proved a much better call, leaving Nicole wondering why they ever tried Ride in the first place.

Things were slightly more problematic with Chip and Kim. Maybe it's the weight. Maybe it's not having the technique to balance properly. We saw two crashes in the luge course, and there might have been more. Still, they got through after a pretty substantial delay. And how important that delay turned out to be...

The two young couples checked into the airport hotel after booking tickets for an American Airlines flight scheduled to leave at about seven in the morning, which made it the earliest flight available when they called. The only problem was, after their bookings were done, it turned out the plane could not make it into Calgary due to heavy fog. (Hey, it was winter!) And that was information Chip and Kim had access to, and they used it to their advantage by booking an alternative flight on United Airlines. That move was key, as was the fact they concealed everything so Colin and Christie definitely did not know. Cue mad scramble at the airport the next morning when both young couples realized the problem. Late into the race, you'd have thought that paranoid ol' Colin would have called to check the situation every half an hour, but just once in this race, when it mattered most, Colin blew it with time on his side.

We all know what happened after that. Well, if we've watched the show. The gist of it was that everyone managed to fly to Denver on United, but Chip and Kim got themselves a crucial twenty-minute headstart on the other two teams, who had to switch to a connecting flight on American Airlines rather than United because of baggage issues. (What a time to have that sort of thing upset them.) That was it. That was enough. It didn't matter that Colin made plans by arranging for a good cabbie in Dallas. It didn't matter that Chip and Kim were slowed down by the maze greeting them at the final clue. In the end, Chip and Kim were just two or three minutes faster than the Texans, who lost on home ground. And it all boiled down to that mistake at the airport.

It's a little strange how Brandon and Nicole disappeared after it became clear that it was a race to the wire between Colin and Christie on one side, and Chip and Kim on the other. Yeah, it's true, they had no hope of recovery since they have neither a headstart from the airport nor an insanely good cabbie. Still, after Colin and Christie passed them at the final clue, there was no sighting of them until the other two teams hit the finish mat. Then they just emerged. Just like that. But that's the way it is. I didn't fancy them really competing for the million in the final push, and that's just how it turned out.

Which leaves Chip and Kim the winners of The Amazing Race. A close win, to be sure, and probably the closest we've known after some really intense racing. Phil had a word or two for Colin and Christie, arguably the most competitive team ever in the history of the race. But kudos to Chip and Kim, who did really well and planned everything really well. After botching things all the way back in the first leg (forgetting to pick up a clue at the casino), it's just interesting to see them get over all that and come out on top.

If CBS ever decides to do an All-Stars edition of The Amazing Race, both these teams would get my nomination to go into that Race, along with Ken and Gerard, and maybe Charla and Mirna (if they're willing). Probably the Beach Boys back in the fourth season (David and Jeff I think their name was?), and Derek and Drew from the third season as well. These are all great teams to watch, and there are undoubtedly a few more we all want to see all over again.

Wrapping up, a few other stray thoughts. Maybe it's me, but it does feel a little funny seeing Christie and Nicole going into the tail end of the race and somehow being reminded that they have pretty decent figures. Both of them just seem to stand out on television. Perhaps it has to do with the fact that they're former beauty queens, but they've got that "visually pleasing without looking athletic" figure and overall image, Nicole more visibly so than Christie (her face is etched with that look that says she can take pain). It can be a mild distraction, no doubt. Then again, I want my Alison back! (If you've forgotten, she and Donny were eliminated in the second leg, and she's got that well-rounded, athletic look, and I sort of like her for that.)

It's definitely good to see all the teams still cheering the Final Three on. Scenes like Chip hugging the twins, and Colin congratulating Chip and Kim (grudgingly, I'm sure, but he doesn't let it show), are all priceless. At least we managed to see all the teams meet up at the finishing mat. Last season David and Jeff were still stranded in Hawaii when they were notified that the race was over. That was painful, because I thought David and Jeff were doing nearly everything right until that final leg started. This time we had all the teams make it back home within minutes of each other, so it was quite a bit better.

I'm not sure what the future holds for The Amazing Race. I'm hopeful there would be a sixth season, and a seventh. There are still places to visit and strange challenges to give teams some fun. But today I read a story about how bad the latest instalment of Survivor (Vanuatu) was. The Amazing Race has to reinvent itself and challenge itself every season if it is to continue its successful run. All that without blowing the budget. I'm not in the line, so I don't know if it could be done. Like all other faithful viewers, I can only hope.

So, here's to another great season. Congratulations one last time to Chip and Kim.

gambitch [ 1:06 AM]

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

A few things to get out of the way before going to the main event.

Firstly, thank you to all the people who have read my blog. My counter now registers 500 visits and counting - including all sorts of strange web searches. Here's hoping the faithful regular readers will continue to enjoy reading my thoughts on all sorts of issues that matter to nobody in particular. And if you've got complaints, mail me!

Secondly, massive congratulations to Allison "C.J." Janney for winning another Emmy for her role in The West Wing. Unfortunately everyone else didn't have a good day as other equally deserving people beat them to it. John "Leo" Spencer didn't seem to mind - he was clapping happily when the winner (I forgot who it was now) went on stage. Still, C.J., go get 'em girl!

On the side, The Amazing Race also won an Emmy for Outstanding Reality Game Show. That should prove that it's better than Survivor and American Idol! One of the other nominees was Last Comic Standing - I'd love to get a look of that show, though I suspect that given the usual stand-up comedy content, the show might not get an airing here. Then again, they've shown stuff by Drew Carey...

Anyhow, I know this comes late - the final leg of The Amazing Race would have been shown in some parts of the world. But I promise you I didn't cheat. No preview from the website for me. I'll just go through my impressions of the previous leg here. Short and sweet, if I can.

There were a few surprises on the previous leg, some bigger than others. For me, the biggest was not that Colin and Christie got Yielded (more on that later), but that Colin and Christie are still alive in the Race at all. I was expecting one team to be eliminated on this leg, but I'll admit I hadn't counted on them going for a two-hour finale. Traditionally, the third last leg would be an elimination leg to determine the Final Three, and the second last leg would be all about jockeying for position. They've changed that this time - the third last leg was the final non-elimination, and two legs will be crammed into the finale. So the Final Three became the Final Four. I hadn't counted on that. Then again most people never counted on that either.

I still like Colin and Christie. I'm still fancying them to win the million bucks, although now it's going to be really difficult because there are no more chances to get out of jail, and everyone else wants to Yield them. That was just too evident back in Manila, when all three teams arrived at roughly the same time and agreed to Yield Colin and Christie. Now that they're last, I'm sure Linda and Karen would think about Yielding them a second time to kick them down. Or maybe the goody-goody Brandon and Nicole will start showing their horns on the Yield mat too.

Still on the Yield, I was rather taken aback by a comment I heard from Linda and Karen when they were in the taxi. I don't know whether I heard wrong, but I thought I heard one of the Bowling Moms say something about knocking out the Texans. Nothing nasty, but I thought one of them said that Christie had nice tits, but she still had to go. I find such a comment really out of place. Like, this wasn't The Bachelor, so why should a nice figure matter? Secondly, coming from one of the Bowling Moms, this was even weirder. I could imagine a twenty-plus-year-old male saying something like that, but no one left in the race would have said that. Brandon? Uh-uh. He's very devoted to Nicole (good for him). Chip's not the sort either; he doesn't need weak comments like that to mitigate slowing Colin and Christie down when he's got his strategy all planned. Maybe I just heard it wrong. Maybe Linda and Karen said something else. I wouldn't know. I didn't tape down the episode and so I can't get a replay.

Christie's nerves definitely frayed in this leg. Telling the jeepney driver to have no qualms about running other people over just to catch up - now that's really a sign of her losing her marbles. Colin had his moments too in this leg. "My ox is broken!" That was just priceless. I think Colin and Christie really gunked up their performance in the Detour. Christie was no help; maybe she didn't like going into the muddy farmland. Honestly, though, I think this is all fallout from getting Yielded. The fact that they're still alive and in the Race should help them recover a little, and they'll undoubtedly redouble their efforts to overhaul Brandon and Nicole, who are now third. Maybe they'll even try a little bit of revenge on Chip and Kim if they could help it, but I don't think they'll get that opportunity.

Thanks to clever editing, we saw that all four teams had the ingenuity to get out of the bus halfway back to the Coconut Palace and switch to a cab. We were all made to think that Colin and Christie managed to save themselves, and then realized that one by one, all the other three teams also got off in Manila and cabbed their way to the Pitstop. I really thought that Colin and Christie were saved when they got off to change to a taxi. Unfortunately it seems that everyone has wised up now that we're into the fifth season, and everyone had Colin and Christie worked out. Chip realized what Colin would do, and he did the same; and then Brandon and Nicole and Linda and Karen also got off their bus.

There isn't that much about New Zealand to talk about, except I saw someone else comment on a reality TV forum that he'd really like to see Charla try her hand at that Roadblock climbing up the ladder. Yes, it'd be a funny and potentially inspiring sight, but my bet would be that if they were still in it, it'd be Mirna doing this Roadblock. Anyway, a challenge like this was somewhat less scary than we might imagine. Climbing the ladder is easy enough, walking along the girders isn't so bad, and jumping off after all that is pretty safe too. Then again, the only reason I'm saying that is down to the fact I've done a rock-climb and an abseil before, so the initial fear from inexperience isn't really there anymore.

How does the next leg look like shaping up? We're seeing snow; it's either Japan, China or (most likely) Canada. They did Alaska before, so they won't be back in a hurry. There's lots of tension going into the final leg. I'm sure to be watching it really carefully. My money's still on Colin and Christie, but Chip and Kim are going to be pushing them right to the end. And we could see a late surge by the Bowling Moms. It's perhaps a bit dangerous of me to write off the Christian models, but they're the team I fancy least. We've already had a Flo and Zach, and what's the odds of us having another softy team winning the million?

Let's see how it goes tonight.

gambitch [ 8:16 PM]

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

I somehow managed to sleep most of the afternoon off today. The explanation is actually quite simple - too much fatigue. It all had to do with that game of football I had on Sunday. The strange part was that I wasn't even playing that much outfield. I spent most of the game in goal, so I wasn't really running around that much. That shouldn't explain why I was suffering from so much fatigue. Even now I still have sore calves and an aching back.

I think I had an okay game as goalkeeper. It was pretty tough, though. Anyone who has played in "the cage" should know; the conditions invite players to take hard shots from range. And we've got a few guys who are capable of piledrivers, so long as they're on target. I had to pull off quite a few saves on Sunday with lightning reflexes. Considering I'm not exactly an athlete it really required something a little special. As it was, it came off.

I'm proud of my saves. I won't remember them for life, probably, but it feels good to pull off saves from strong shots when it looked pretty hopeless. Palming the ball away at the risk of sprains or even fractures (a friend sprained his hand from a save a few weeks back when I wasn't around) requires a bit of courage, or some would say foolhardiness. But goalkeepers are built different, and they've all got a bit of that. What else would move me to suddenly raise my right hand and push away a shot coming straight at me really strong and quick? I had a go at the defenders in front of me for opening up like the sea and leaving me exposed. At least I didn't duck when it mattered.

But it still isn't nice when you concede silly goals - and I had a few of those. There was one where I thought I had it covered and was about to palm the ball down and pick up the rebound. I stretched my hand out and missed it. That was such a giveaway. Then there was a really dumb own goal after I had done enough to block another fierce shot. My excuse? My hand was numb and I wasn't alert enough to retain possession properly. I was also beaten by a couple of well-placed shots aimed for the far post, but that's good work by the striker - he's got a really powerful shot and he was probably slightly angered by my earlier successes in frustrating him.

Blocking those shots was nice, but now my body is paying the price. I'm still suffering from a bit of fatigue (I'm yawning now) and quite a few muscles are aching. I should be fine in a few days, but it's going to quite badly disrupt my schedule. I just hope I can stay alert and sit through a few videos of some television shows I had to record because I wasn't awake enough to watch them.

On second thoughts, I'll probably have to do it tomorrow. I'm that tired.

gambitch [ 9:51 PM]

Monday, September 20, 2004

"I don't want them to lose. I want us to win."

It's a simple statement, really. But that's the philosophy that drives anyone who tries to produce winners. It's a philosophy that is deeply ingrained into the heads of those who pursue the dream to be the best. If that's what they want, they're going to have to earn their success. And I like it that way.

I believe that people should make their own success. They should go out there and prove to everyone else that they fully deserve to win. Will is not enough, though important; there must be that sheer ability that manifests itself by doing as many things right as possible. Somehow it feels different and tastes different if victory was the consequence of the opponent botching it and making a mistake. I'm not saying that I would shun a chance to win if it was presented on a platter, like an open goal to shoot at from six yards out. A win is a win, and I'll take three points in the bag any day. But there's always going to be that hack out there who'll wonder "what if that mistake never happened".

I'm not the type to like that kind of thought lingering in my head. If, say, Real Madrid were thrashed 3-0 (like against Bayer) and people said that that's because Real didn't have a good day in the office in the first place, that just implies that if Real Madrid were on form the same team that beat them would have had no chance. Firstly, I don't think that's being fair to the guys who did win on the day, since they had to score as well. Blame the losers all you like for not playing to their potential, but don't forget the winners had work to do if they were to win as well. Secondly, not everyone is as good as Real Madrid (they are good; they just have some very insane management at the top which makes coaching them a taller order than the Taipei 101). Many of the opponents people in most sports face out there tend to be mediocre at best. A few are competitive, but they make for only a percentage.

Which is why I think, at least in "the profession", it's a little easier to produce hands-down winners. Certainly the current schools circuit is such that if one or two teams pull firmly ahead, they're pretty hard to catch. It's a bit like most of the football leagues (France is an exception). You've got a couple of clear contenders, and a host of other sides happy with mid-table mediocrity. Except of course the concept of "mid-table mediocrity" doesn't quite apply when:
(a) there's no table, and;
(b) there are uninformed, unrealistic fools out there who don't know their place.

Uninformed, unrealistic fools are often among the elements of blind bureaucracy. You know, the type of person who has no idea what's going on on the ground and maybe doesn't even know the rules of the game. If they were flush with cash and Russian I'd call them Abramovich. (The real Abramovich is, of course, not totally stupid when it comes to football, and he's no bureaucrat. Caricatures being what they are, however, we'll conveniently forget that bit of detail.) You've got to be a football man to be a football manager. And if you want some success, you've got to be shrewd enough to see and play the big picture game.

It's not about simply buying and playing a bunch of individual galacticos. Real Madrid last season is a case in point. They got the stars, but they ended up fourth. I'm not saying it's Queiroz's fault because he's their coach - I'm not well placed to pass my assessment on that. The point is that fashioning a winning team is not that simple, and too many outsiders (and quite a few insiders too) get it all wrong.

But I digress. Fortunately blogs are good places for digressing, because I'm free to write in whatever format I like and digressions are part of the game.

The true measure of a good side is one that can be put into any conditions, however adverse, and still win. One man down, two goals behind, with four minutes to go. It has been done before. Adversity like that has been overcome before. True greats know no fear, and they can show their class wherever they go. Sure, it's okay if they find themselves in an advantageous position. But when they're in a position that most believe to be bad and they still come out on top, that's something else.

I'm told that in recent years, the kids in "the profession" have been consistently preferring to go first, and have largely had no problems going first, but lots of problems going second. That explains why I like building teams good at going second; that and the fact that I think the real game is decided by what the side going second does. The simple fact is that I don't think winning or losing should be so heavily biased by something like the toss of a coin. I'm fine with the element of luck having some small say in deciding any game, but if luck disadvantages a side even before the first whistle, where's the fun in that?

Which is why I set up that experiment the way I did. And I think the experiment today came off okay. It wasn't perfect, but it was certainly a good improvement over what has been seen lately. Looking back, I think I managed to show a few tricks and give a decent demonstration. My own performance on the field had quite a bit of room for improvement, and to make matters worse it has been quite some time since I last went on stage in this position, so it's probably fair to say I've been more than a bit out of touch. Still, I think I pulled off a couple of stunts that could be useful to learn. I was cold, and cold is good when you know how to use it. I think I used it okay, and I was conscious enough about doing that because I wanted to prevent getting myself off the rails. So, yeah, that's something.

My review of the experiment itself? It was okay, but I think the side going first fluffed it a bit with an odd opening setup. Their initial position was a little undecided, and a few interesting areas weren't touched. That was the signal for the other side to go after them and give them total hell. At this point I'm reminded of a lame joke...

"Who let the dogs out? (Who, who, who, who, who...)"

Interestingly enough I once saw a joke Flash movie where this song was borrowed for a fake Hush Puppies ad. But that's a sidetrack.

Unfortunately some of the things just didn't play properly. (Can anyone explain to me what that Quran idea was about?) There's still a shortage of discipline when it comes to picking out the gems from the marbles. And there are a few other areas where some polishing could be done (I don't want to say that it must be done, because it's a taste issue, really, and I have precise tastes.). But expecting everything to come off perfectly is perhaps a little too much; I'm not so unhappy that I'd throw a glass bottle or something. What's more important perhaps is that there was a method to some of that mad barking, and the dogs were having quite a party going at what I think was the right piece of meat.

But it does not end here. An experiment is fine, but if it's one-off and not enough is done to follow through, it will all come to nought. I'm not going to be there to keep running experiments like this, plus if I had to keep conducting the experiment it means I'm doing something wrong. Eventually experiments like this should and can be run without me. The lads should be capable of this; if they had to wait for the gaffer to do all these things for them, they're never going to grow. Furthermore, if it should come to pass one day that they get themselves a wretch of a gaffer (and that's a possibility that should never be written off), the future can look really ugly if they were not independently capable of improving themselves.

My work isn't done. In the first place this doesn't quite count as work. I'm not paid to do this, nor am I otherwise entrusted with a brief to achieve a certain set of objectives. So in my book that's not work - nobody's asking me to do anything. I'm mostly taking this upon myself. But that's where it leads to the second level, because the road to godlike perfection is infinite. It's long and tough. And it's too long and tough for me to see out the whole course. But I think it's within me to bring some of these truly promising talents as far as I can, and teach them a couple of tricks that many others cannot or will not teach.

None of this should be a discredit to the boys' regular gaffer. He's a good lad, and certainly in some aspects he's on a higher plane I cannot touch. But "the profession" is a collective enterprise of sorts, and talents are not measured linearly. Different people have different strengths and different concentrations, and it's always good to learn from different people. I'm very open and accommodating on this (I'm very open and accommodating on too many things to name), and I know when's a good time to back off. I think we've all got strengths to offer, and the kids should be free to learn from multiple sources provided they know what they're learning. It's not like what goes on in some Chinese martial arts novels. Many pugilistic sects in those stories have very firm rules about learning only the skills taught by that particular sect. Anything else learnt from other sources is heresy and punishable. I don't think like that. I'm not so rigid.

In closing, I thought I should just mention that Surfer learnt over dinner today that I've been on his blog. (Surfer, in case you're wondering, there's a link to your blog on the left.) Surfer certainly had a hard time wondering who the strange visitor was. Well, now he knows! Welcome aboard.

gambitch [ 9:53 PM]


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