"Temporality is part of the truth" -- Chuck Klosterman

Monday, July 14, 2014

11 Reasons to Read My Blog. You Won't Believe What Happens Next!

The interwebs sure have changed since I started blogging three and a half years ago. As I attempt to rebuild Building Castles on the Beach after basically bypassing 2013 and the first half of 2014, I notice that many of the sites I read and enjoyed before when I was a full tilt blogger haven't posted anything for months or even years, or have even discontinued their blogs altogether. A recent culling of the blogs I officially follow has shown that at least two of my formerly favorite websites have been co-opted by porn. These are blogs I had direct links to in the margins of my own posts. I would be embarrassed if I thought anyone was actually visiting my own site during the time those links would have been active.

The other major difference is the kind of writing that seems to get read on the interwebs. I'm reminded of the commotion in the 90's about the popularity of the "newspaper" (look it up, kids!) called USA Today. It was frequently criticized due to the nature of its short, snapshot articles and colorful infographics filled with empty calories. The "dumbing down" of America was not just Jim Carrey's fault.

USA Today still exists, of course, but now it's surrounded by even simpler sites and blogs and reddits and I don't even know what that last one is. But because I'm a quick study (it's only taken me twenty-some years) I've figured out what it takes to get read around here. And I'm going to start following these guidelines I've come up with all by myself--right after this post, of course. It's already too wordy.

14 Ingredients in Diet Soda That You Didn't Know Were There. Number 9 Will Make You Throw Up a Little in Your Mouth.

Titles: Titles require numbers. Any number, apparently. Those of you raised on Letterman's Top Ten Lists might think that you should use a good, round number, like 5 or 10 or 25 or 100 or, you know, 10. But any number works. Use 9. Or 27. Even 32. It doesn't matter, as long as the readers know how many items they will be exposed to before they click on that link.

Also, titles should indicate exactly what the article will tell readers, up to a point. No spoilers. In fact, the title should be a tease. A good title tells readers that if they click this link they will read about a man who had some really bad thing happen to him, but that something wonderful happened to him next. But DON'T TELL WHAT THAT WONDERFUL THING WAS! Not yet. Not in the title. If the title gave away the store, no one would ever click on the link.

A great title, incidentally, adds an emotional tease. Like how inspiring the thing was that happened next. Or how shocking. How much the reader will not believe what happens next. How much the writer cried. Or how speechless everyone is.

The Number of Words in This Article is Outrageous. Word 156 is the Absolute Worst.

Content: As stated above, I've already broken this rule, but I'm really counting on your discretion. Written content should never be too verbose. In fact, an article should not contain the word "verbose." Each item in the list indicated through your title should only include a few sentences of written language. For instance, this item I've called "Content" is now five sentences, and you've probably already stopped reading.

Something else vital to the written content are links. Lots of links. I'm not sure why, but maybe it's because the writer has written so little that the reader will require more information if they wish to learn anything at all.

A Bear Showed This Couple How to Care for Their Child. This is the Sweetest Video of a Mauling You'll See Today.

Visuals: Video is best. If an article isn't really an article, but just a conduit to someone else's previously published video, with perhaps a vague sentence explaining the grand import to how it has changed lives, then no one really has to read anything.

However, I've noticed that in lieu of a youtube or questionable news outlet video link, two other kinds of visuals will do the trick. Animated GIFs are fun and, best of all, animated. I don't know what a GIF is, actually, but when the dude on the skateboard won't stop hitting his groin on the railing until I scroll past the image, I think I've just seen a GIF.

And if you can't afford the bandwidth for animation, then a simple "meme" will suffice. Find a handsome picture of Ryan Gosling, type "Hey Girl," above his head, and there's no need to actually make a comment on the state of the union or how bad the new Transformers movie is because the meme is "So True."

You Won't Believe What They Allowed This Student to Say in Her Graduation Speech. Liberals Everywhere are Speechless. Some Conservatives Have Been Neutered.

Politics: I've deemed this a very important aspect of internet writing today. When writing an article that will be in any way political, you must be sure to first and foremost alienate anyone who may disagree with you. Begin with an insulting title about those thin-lipped liberals or those stringy-haired conservatives. The insults continue throughout the article, of course, but don't make any kind of coherent, rational argument because that's not what the interwebs are for. You just want to inflame opinions. There is no changing minds. Make your partisan point and get the hell out of there. Let the facebook comments do the talking for you.

Lesson Learned: You won't believe your eyes when you see what's in store for the future of Building Castles on the Beach. Post number 18 will take your breath away.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

World Cup Soccer Explained. Finally!

I'm still not over my disappointment in Brasil's sleep walk of a performance against Germany. So I'm not going to talk about that. Instead, with the finals looming, this might be my last chance for four years to defend some aspects of the World Cup that neophytes and ardent fans alike don't seem to appreciate.

This is funny. But patently untrue. 

The first thing I want to mention is that soccer is a contact sport. I don't share this now to make some tired comparison about how American football requires all kinds of pads and aren't soccer players tough and such. I say this to direct your focus as a viewer away from the sprawling green field the television camera shows you for most of the game. The pitch is long and wide (I won't say it's the longest and widest of all the sports because I don't know all the sports, but it's got to be close), and if you tend to get bored when one team passes the ball around for an interminable amount of time, back and forth between two or three players then all the way back to the goalie then up the sideline almost to the penalty box then back again when the player finds his way blocked--well, then perhaps you're neglecting the skill inherent in such accuracy. The opposition, for their part, isn't just standing there or even walking (well, maybe Lionel Messi is). It might casually appear that way momentarily, but these moments are rare and really happen quite quickly. The vast majority of a soccer game is played in close quarters, with players on either side hacking away at each other's lower appendages as they attempt to gain some semblance of control over the ball. 

In other words, in soccer you run in to each other. A lot. 

It's just a jump to the left...
Imagine what would happen if there were someone standing near the finish line of a 100-meter dash, and as Usain Bolt reaches his top speed, he's tapped on the shoulder. What might such a minor, slight touch do to his balance and trajectory? Now imagine the push comes from a linebacker (not wearing pads) who has timed his hit exactly so that he will knock Usain Bolt off of the track entirely.

You see, it's all about physics and slow motion. The soccer pitch is really just a containment field for a bunch of atoms spun around the Large Hadron Collider and made to smash into each other. 
This isn't a time machine. Or is it?

If that metaphor doesn't work for you, I'll put it simply: those blokes are really fast and really strong. I mean, have you seen their thighs? You probably haven't since, like, 1990, but before then soccer shorts were built to allow the thigh muscles all the freedom they needed. Anyway, when they come in contact with one another, it's mini-Big Bangs all over the place. Who needs CERN?
In 1986, your shirt had to be tucked in, too.

So physics means that players fall down. It's true. Sometimes it's on purpose. Sometimes it's not. I know well the satisfaction of taking down a sprinting forward with a graceful slide tackle, the ball knocked away, the forward sprawled out with his face in the grass. I haven't really experienced that since high school, of course. The indoor league I play with these days doesn't even allow your knee to touch the ground. And what would it look like if I went around slide tackling my own players as a coach at practice? Weird. That's what. Anyhoo, sometimes as you slide, you lift your foot at the last minute on purpose. Sometimes that happens whether you want it to or not. Sometimes the forward just falls whether you made any contact with him or not. And sometimes he falls on purpose, but sometimes not.
I liked Robben. He's clearly one of the fastest, strongest forwards.
Then he did this. Lame.

Professional soccer players take dives. It's pretty clear that Arjen Robben took a dive against Mexico in the final seconds of the game, and the Netherlands won with a penalty kick. Diving is probably the most ubiquitous complaint against the game. It gives soccer a bad rap, certainly, but I think many World Cup viewers think that diving is the norm. And my point begins and ends with "soccer is a contact sport."

The slightly lesser criticism of how much pain the player actually suffers is only exacerbated by slow motion video and high definition broadcast technology. On TV, of course, it sure doesn't look like those little taps on the shin would make a grown man cry. But, trust me, the pain in the moment is real. Crashed shins. Cleats at the knee or on the foot. Heads knocking like coconuts. That's a common occurrence in the World Cup. When two incredibly determined athletes leap into the air in order to be the first to reach a ball with their heads, skulls will crack, arms will flail, elbows will jab. I've been on the receiving end of one of those headbutts. Concussion put me out for two games.

This is what happens every time
there's a foul during a soccer game.
But let's return for a moment to the analogy of the Large Hadron Collider. It wouldn't mean anything to run atoms into each other if we couldn't take pictures of every single nano-moment of the collision and the resulting explosion to see if anything actually happened. That slo-mo video is essential to the discovery.

So, too, it is with the slo-mo instant replays of not only every shot ad nauseum, but every foul. But these players have got to be kidding, right? These virile chaps contort their faces into the most ridiculous expressions. Nowadays only to be caught on an HD recording to relive in all it's grimacing glory. But that's just it. I mean, what expression you would make if you were minding your own business, one minute just out for a jog, then the next minute you're on your butt through no fault of you own? And what would people say if they saw a picture of it?

To be honest, I don't like how they take so much time. Even players who are fouled and get the call stay on the ground and arrange their socks and shin guards and tie their shoes again. They give the other team all the time they need to form a wall and set their defense. I don't quite understand why they don't just bounce up and walk it off without taking their time first. I know when I've felt that jolt of pain, the fastest way to get over it is to keep moving, not stop and pout. Or fix your clothes. I dunno. Maybe they're all worried that every time they get knocked over, their livelihood is on the line, which is entirely probable. One wrong step, one missed tackle, one swollen ankle or bruised kneecap (not to mention fractured vertebrae), and your career may be over.
Seriously. Ow.

Then there's the on-field complaining. When you don't get the call your way, apparently in World Cup play it's okay for several players to approach the referee, heatedly plead your case, then walk away shaking your head. That, of course, would earn each of those players yellow cards in a high school soccer match. But I get it. Yell at the refs. Complain about calls. It's understandable. As a coach, my communication on the field is a good 90% yelling at refs, with only ten percent of the time left to work with my own players. I don't expect the refs to change their calls. I have never once in ever seen a ref change his mind about a call. I can't imagine these professional players, who've seen much more soccer than I ever will, might think that the ref will change his mind if they get up in his face after a call. Besides, they've probably got at least three different languages being tossed around out there. How does anyone know what anyone else is saying?
Notice the smirk on the ref's face. He doesn't understand a word.

Still, I believe in making the officials aware of what they missed. For the next time. I've seen it work. Say a certain player is repeatedly evading calls for fouls. If I point it out to the referees, that player is not likely to keep getting away with it. And though I've never witnessed an official change his mind, I've seen refs deliberately make up for a bad call by making a bad call the other way. Maybe that's why players like Robben get calls their way just for pretending to be kicked in the shin.  

Perhaps the most grievous grievance about soccer (by Americans, at least) is the low scores. But I like how a goal in soccer actually means something. You have to admit that for most basketball games, nothing really matters until the last five minutes, right? Basketball players might as well just sprint up and down a court for about 35 minutes, then take five minutes to see who can make the most baskets. In soccer, each time the ball goes into the net, it's a big deal. That's why they run around crazy after scoring, doing dogpiles and dances. That's why (all but the demure dudes they get on ESPN) announcers scream "Goooooooooool!" for about four minutes. Because it matters. Because it's rare.
After this, the player who scored was injured for three games.

Germany's 7-1 victory over Brasil the other day has served at least to show that points can add up on the board, but that's not the kind of game we like (and not just because Brasil was on the short end of that one). The drama in soccer happens as tension mounts. A couple of goals here and there just make it that much more important to play well, defending your lead or coming from behind. Every second counts. Every touch, every foul, every shot matters. That's the beauty of the game.

End of sermon. Amen.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Father's Day and the World Cup

I don't follow sports. I don't watch the Super Bowl, not even for the commercials. I don't know who's in the NBA finals right now, though I am mindful of professional sports seasons and don't quite understand why the basketball season extends into the summer. And while I coach soccer and even play it myself (old man, coed rec league), the last time I watched a soccer game on TV was four years ago when Spain beat the Netherlands in the 2010 World Cup final.

Only the guy on the right is supposed to use his hands.

Growing up, I loved soccer but was only vaguely aware of something called the World Cup. I guess I have a memory of Maradona's "Hand of God" goal in 1986, but I can't recall if I watched it live or just heard about it later. I don't know if any TV station in the United States would have even broadcast the World Cup final at that time. In 1990, I was in Brazil, and suddenly the World Cup actually meant something. As a missionary, I wasn't supposed to be watching soccer, but literally everyone we would talk to was engaged with the World Cup, and during the games (especially the matches the Brazilian team played), it was no use trying to find someone to teach the gospel. "Hi, we have a message about Jesus Christ. Oh, Pele's your personal savior? Okay. Talk to you in three weeks." Instead, we missionaries spent time in member's homes and--this sounds much worse than it is--at the bar next door, watching futebol, and catching the fever. 

I thought graphic design was better in the 90's.

Then, for some reason, in 1994, the World Cup was held in the United States. I began to become obsessed with watching the games, even changing my schedule around for the first time ever just to be a part of televised sporting events. I received much grief from my first wife for suggesting that she find herself a ride to the airport when she had to fly to her mother's at the same time that the US team was to play Brazil. I only caught the last part of that match because I did wind up taking her to the airport myself, though hindsight says I probably could have stayed home to watch the entire game and my marriage would have ended the same.

In '98 and '02, my fascination for the World Cup percolated over low heat. I'd watch what games I could, but it remained difficult to find the time or the channel. Especially in 2002, when the games were played in Korea in the middle of the night. I mean, that's pretty inconsiderate. Because of this, any inclination to continue to watch the World Cup at all might have ended there if it weren't for TiVo.

Miracle drug? or Gateway drug? 

By 2006, I had a new wife who had come fully stocked with the miracle of satellite TV and the DVR. That year, I recorded every World Cup game and was thus able to fully realize my World Cup mania. I didn't watch every match (I mean, who wants to sit through Angola vs. Iran?), but most of the games passed before my eyes. I spent many mucho hours in front of the TV in the basement, mostly by myself because I had no friends and my wife and daughters had no interest, sometimes watching entire games, sometimes forwarding through at double or triple speed, only stopping to watch a goal or a major foul. The TiVo fast forward was to me the most brilliant contrivance since the VCR. It was like I needed to view as much as I could. Like the experience wouldn't be complete by just watching one or two games here and there. And fast forwarding through some of the games makes that possible.

The 2010 World Cup sped by in much the same manner.

But I almost didn't get to see anything this year. After the first boy was born three and a half years ago, we had little time for television had discontinued paying for cable and TiVo. I thought, maybe, I would be able to find the games streaming for free online, but the legit sites like ESPN need cable passwords and the unlegit sights scare me. I actually clicked a link for one site that was supposed to stream all kinds of live sporting events, and it opened to an FCC warning stating that the government had taken over that web address. Not only did I not need viruses and the FCC infecting my computer, but I didn't think I wanted to sit at my kitchen table and watch hours of soccer on my laptop screen.  

Instead, for Father's Day my wife solved my World Cup dilemma. We splurged and reinstated the TiVo, but without the cable or satellite TV. Realizing that Univision would broadcast every single game, I have been able to record the whole Cup without having to pay for cable. It's more fun to watch the games in Spanish, after all. 

The following is a classic, but oh, so true. 

Fortunately, my passion for World Cup soccer has not branched out to a desire to watch any other sports, including the MLS. But I'm pleased that every four years my wife bestows unto me a month-long Father's Day. Next time, I'm not going to skimp on the cost. My plan for World Cup 2018 is to watch it on my brand new holographic television with 22 point stadium sound system and available Smell-O-Vision package to really experience that balmy Russian summer.