2019 Continental Cup builds to an exciting finale

On the closest sheet, Team North America (skipped by Brad Gushue) sweeps a stone into the house against Team World, lead by Bruce Mouat, during the 2019 Continental Cup on Saturday, Jan. 19, 2019, in Las Vegas, Nevada.

On the closest sheet, Team North America (skipped by Brad Gushue) sweeps a stone into the house against Team World, lead by Bruce Mouat, during the 2019 Continental Cup on Saturday, Jan. 19, 2019, in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Today is the final day of the 2019 Continental Cup at the Orleans Arena. Judging by the first three days of competition between Team North America and Team World, the final day could be electric.

The final two sessions are at 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. PT. Coverage streams online at ESPN3 and broadcast in Canada on TSN.

The World team has definitely had the better of the North Americans in the first three days. Team World has a commanding five-point lead in the race to 30.5 (17.5 to 12.5). Team North America had been further behind, but swept the final round of scramble play for a crucial six points.

Setting the points aside, the competition has had numerous highlights over the first nine rounds of games. There have been blowouts, close battles, barely missed shots at the absolute worst time and clutch shots to seal the win. Last night’s double by John Shuster of Team North America is a great example of a key shot.

I’ve said that curling is fun to watch, but it’s even more fun to play. The atmosphere at the Orleans Arena almost makes me want to change my position (although I may have different thoughts when I step into the hack for my Monday night league).

The level of competition has been outstanding. It’s thrilling to watch these world-class athletes perform and consistently make shots that would be daunting for the average club curler.

The fans are definitely a key contributor to the fun atmosphere at the Orleans. As a volunteer, I’ve been able to interact with many fans and they’re virtually all positive and upbeat about curling. When the fans are in the stands, the setting becomes dynamic.

The audience doesn’t cheer through the whole game. This is another area where curling is like golf — it can be a quiet as a mouse when a team is setting up a shot, However, the crowd definitely shows its appreciation for great shots and good wins.

At the end of Saturday night’s games, the applause was thunderous after Team North America swept the session. It was awesome to see thousands of cheering curling fans — it’s something that’s not too common at events in the United States (although more common in Canada).

Today, it comes down to the final two rounds of competition — the skins game. Continental Cup supporters like to compare this event to golf’s Ryder Cup and this is one area where the comparison is apt.

There’s a lot of points on the table — five per game. Each end (like a baseball inning) for the first six ends is worth 0.5 points. The last two ends are worth a whole point.

It’s not easy to win a skin. The team with the hammer scoring advantage has to score at least two points to claim their prize. The non-hammer team can steal the skin by scoring one point. If neither team reaches their objective, the skin carries over and the pot grows slightly larger.

WIth a total of 30 points on the table today, either team has a shot to win the Continental Cup. Last year, Team World had been behind, but finished with a strong skins performance — resulting in the first-ever tie at 30-30.

Team North America won the tiebreaker as North America’s Brad Gushue edged out World’s Thomas Ulsrud in a playoff to see which team could get a single stone to the center of the house.

We’ll see today whether the 2019 competition will be as close as last year. Will Team North America complete its comeback or will Team World hold them off and win its first cup in six years? I’m excited to find out.

Getting my first pair of shoes at the Continental Cup

A pair of curling shoes purchased from Brooms Up Curling Supplies at the 2019 Continental Cup in Las Vegas, Nevada.

A pair of curling shoes purchased from Brooms Up Curling Supplies at the 2019 Continental Cup in Las Vegas, Nevada.

A lot of people new to the sport of curling often ask if it’s expensive to participate in. Thankfully, the answer is no for the individual curler.

In a lot of ways, getting into curling is like going to the bowling alley. In bowling, you pay for a lane or a certain number of games. In curling, you pay for ice time.

The sport of bowling calls for bowling balls and shoes, but the alley often makes those available for casual participants.

It’s similar in curling — you need a broom to sweep and a special slider for the bottom of your shoe, but most clubs have some available for newer players to borrow.

(Also, the curling stones are owned by the club, just as a bowling alley owns the pins).

As I’ve gotten more involved in curling, I’ve slowly started acquiring personal equipment. Many curlers recommend getting shoes first because that would have the biggest impact on your game.

Unfortunately, shoes are a little pricey, so my first purchase was a curling broom (which was about 45 percent of the cost of shoes). I felt it was a good upgrade compared with the heavier house brooms. I certainly feel more effective with my own broom.

I’m now in a position to buy shoes, but there aren’t a lot of physical curling stores in much of the United States.

Thankfully, one of the American vendors, Brooms Up Curling Supplies, has a mobile showroom that travels to different curling events — including the 2019 Continental Cup.

While many supplies are available for purchase online, I enjoy being able to browse gear in person and try it on for size. The Brooms Up trailer is good for this, as the owner Gary carries a lot of the major manufacturers gear (but not all).

With the Brooms Up trailer parked between the Orleans Arena and the casino, a lot of curling fans drop by after  draws. I was able to drop by Friday and buy my first pair of curling shoes.

As you can tell from the photo at the top of this post, they’re not the most glamorous but I’m hoping they will do the trick. The left shoe includes a built-in slider (currently covered by a rubber gripper) that will help me glide across the ice. With the gripper on the left shoe and a rubber sole on the right, I should be able to walk on the ice with confidence.

My next challenge will be actually using these shoes. Even a small change to my delivery can have a big impact on the game and these new shoes are a big shift.

Also, I’ve never previously moved around on the slider after delivering a stone. Instructors and anyone with common sense caution standing up on a slip-on slider and I’ve certainly fallen a couple times when I forget.

I imagine it will take me a while to used to shuffling around on a slider. I’ll certainly exercise caution, but I’m excited about this next step in my curling experience.

Getting the joke at the Continental Cup

Mixed doubles during Draw 5 of the 2019 Continental Cup in Las Vegas on Friday, Jan. 18, 2019.

Mixed doubles during Draw 5 of the 2019 Continental Cup in Las Vegas on Friday, Jan. 18, 2019.

Watching curling in person can be a unique experience, especially at this weekend’s Continental Cup in Las Vegas. Watching with several thousand enthusiastic fans who are knowledgeable about the game really takes it up the next level.

Watching curling in person offers fans a chance to watching multiple games at the same time (versus TV focusing on one game with highlights from the rest). That increases the likelihood of watching an interesting play develop.

At the same time, it can be a little daunting for a newer fan. The first international competition I attended was the 2018 World Men’s Curling Championships, also in Vegas. There were four sheets in play (as opposed to three here this weekend). It was easy to focus on a specific sheet and be a little late noticing something interesting happening elsewhere on the ice.

I had an easier time watching with the three sheets in play this weekend, but I still missed one or two key plays.

If you can’t make it to Vegas for the final two days of the competition, watching a curling competition on a screen does have its advantages especially if the broadcasting team clicks with the audience. Certainly the TSN crew airing the Continental Cup gets a lot of kudos. Fans in the U.S. can watching online on ESPN3 (or on Curling Canada’s YouTube channel about two days after each individual event airs).

Some fans in the audience get the best of both worlds — watching in person and listening in on the TSN broadcast team of Vic Rauter and former Olympians Cheryl Bernard and Russ Howard. Fans who purchased tickets to every event received a headset that allowed them to listen to the TSN feed.

Fans who bought tickets to the entire event received ear buds that allowed them to listen to the network broadcast in the arena.

Fans who bought tickets to the entire event received ear buds that allowed them to listen to the network broadcast in the arena.

Apparently, a lot of people bought this package. At some points during the competition, most of the audience erupted in what appeared to be spontaneous laughter. It wasn’t necessarily in response to something happening on the ice (although some of the athletes like to joke around and fans indulge them with laughs).

I quickly wondered if there was some joke that I was missing. That was literally the case — it appears everyone tuning into the TSN broadcast was able to hear some quip and reacted appropriately. (Sample joke after the camera spotted a couple dressed as characters from “The Flintstones” — There’s Fred and Wilma. And Pebbles is on the ice. That’s relatively funny and super corny if you’re a curling fan)..

I was a little sad that I missed the joke, but it definitely shows how many diehard curling fans are in the audience.

Watching the world’s best curlers in Las Vegas

A decal stating Las Vegas Curling Rocks is posted on a door at the Orleans Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada, on April 3, 2018. The casino is hosting the 2019 Continental Cup.

A decal stating Las Vegas Curling Rocks is posted on a door at the Orleans Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada, on April 3, 2018. The casino is hosting the 2019 Continental Cup.

Today is the first day of the 2019 Continental Cup of Curling at the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas. If you haven’t seen this event before, I would say it’s well worth your time if you’re a fan of the game. In the U.S., games stream on ESPN3 online (with replays shared on the Curling Canada YouTube channel about 48 hours later).

Six of the world’s best teams are competing this weekend in a format similar to the Ryder Cup. This time, it’s Team North America against Team World.

Teams include gold medalists from the 2018 Winter Olympics including women’s champion Team Hasselborg of Sweden and men’s champion Team Shuster of the United States. The rest of the roster is loaded with top athletes, including four Canadian teams, five additional European teams and Team Sinclair from the U.S.

One of the things that sets the Continental Cup apart from other international events is that it’s generally more fun and not just because it’s in Las Vegas. As far as I know, the stakes are little lower because the outcome of the event won’t affect any of the teams’ chances to qualify for a national championship or a spot at the Olympics.

Teams do play for pride and a share of a decent-sized jackpot, but it appears to be a chance for athletes to have a little fun in the middle of the season before going off to national championships (in the case of Canada and the United States).

The Continental Cup often shakes things up, on and off the ice. On the ice, the competition is arranged so individual squads are broken up and recombined in various ways — including setting up pairs to play on mixed doubles squads or assembling new teams for the new team scramble format.

The traditional teams of four will have regular matches, but even that’s mixed up over the course of the weekend as the final day features a skins format.

Off the ice, the teams have areas to cheer their teammates on. This is generally different from other competitions, where teams who aren’t playing usually don’t come the arena.

All of this adds up to something special. The athletes look like they’re having a lot of fun and the competition is a blast to watch. Last year’s event ended in a tie that had to be broken with curling’s equivalent of a shootout.

The Continental Cup is also a great opportunity to see different teams from around the world face off. Last year’s event preceded the Olympics and the games offered an excellent preview of what happened in South Korea, including the fact that John Shuster was ready to make a splash on the international stage.

There are three rounds a day today through Saturday. On Sunday, there are two rounds of skins games. Coverage from every round (or draw) airs live on TSN in Canada and is available on ESPN3 in the U.S.

It will be exciting to see how this year’s event unfolds.

A comment on commenting systems, specifically Kinja

My Kinja profile pre merger

My Kinja profile pre merger

It seems like there are very few good commenting systems on the Internet. Based on my experience, the free or low-cost services can be very barebones, sluggish or just a pain to use (I guess you get what you pay for). After being saddled with Facebook Comments for several years, I was happy when my previous employer switched to Disqus. It’s not perfect, but it was the service I was most familiar with and it offered a fairly robust series of moderation tools that I _definitely_ put to use.

I no longer have to moderate comments on a regular basis but I’m still partial to Disqus, especially because it’s the system used on one of my favorite websites — The A.V. Club. Commenters there have a love-mostly hate relationship with Disqus, particularly during the service’s hiccups. At the same time, A.V. Club stories garner dozens and hundreds of comments and Disqus (mostly) handles the workload.

Unfortunately, that’s apparently about to change in the next few months. In the past few years, The A.V. Club and its sister publication, The Onion, were purchased by Univision. The Spanish-language broadcaster has been expanding into different sites and also added the Gizmodo network (formerly Gawker). One of Gizmodo’s assets is a content management system called Kinja.

Based on previous media reports, it appears that The Onion and A.V. Club will move over to Kinja. Although there wasn’t official confirmation at the time, it’s started a series of comments on A.V. Club. (NOTE: The move has been announced after I first wrote a draft of this post and is taking place Aug. 23.)

In a recent comment, someone asked what was so bad with Kinja. Here was my stab at a response —

I’m not sure about _all_ the objections about Kinja, but the biggest annoyance for me is that posters and their initial posts start off in a “pending” status.

When you’re in pending status, your comment is out of view unless the reader clicks on “View Pending.” Even then, the pending comment is displayed in gray and tagged “PENDING APPROVAL” to reinforce how “pending” it is.

Posts can be moved out of pending if they get enough likes/stars. I also believe that the posters can earn a trusted-sort of status but the process of how this is done isn’t well explained.

I must admit I haven’t seen _too_ much spam on Kinja sites lately, but trolls still abound. Generally, the system puts up unnecessary hurdles to interaction.

All in all, it’s a clunky system. Also, as I understand it, It’s the underlying content management system for the blogs that use it (like Deadspin). It makes it easier to swap content between sites, but they all look bland and cookie-cutter.

For as much as people gripe about Disqus on A.V. Club, the users there have built a vibrant community centered around a common love of pop culture. It’s gotten a bit more combative as the site has published more politically focused articles (which seems somewhat understandable, given the current president’s symbiotic, yet toxic relationship with the media). The comment area has also remained a reliable fixture of the site, even as it undergoes changes (with some longtime features being cut and some dubious elements added — including some sponsored content that the commentariat lustily mocked).

Despite the increasing politicization, The A.V. Club comment area remains a mostly positive forum full of inside jokes, truly awful puns and considerable passion. I sincerely hope that the switch to Kinja doesn’t negatively affect this oasis.

10+1 images from my first year back in Utah

At the end of May, I marked the first anniversary of my returning to Utah. To celebrate the occasion, I reviewed the photos I took from the past 365 days and picked ten that highlighted some of the fun activities from 2016-17. There’s also a bonus picture — the first photo I took upon my return.

Click any photo to embiggen…

Hitting 11 million image views on Google Maps

My profile on Google Maps.

My profile on Google Maps.

Just a year ago, I passed 2 million views on Google Maps. Imagine my surprise when my images surged past 10 million views just a couple of months ago. The 190 images I’ve published on Google Maps has been viewed 11.1 million times as of this writing.

I wish I could claim total responsibility for this accomplishment, but it seems like it’s more a matter of being in the right place at the right time.

Since I started uploading photospheres to Google Street View, none of them had exceeded 1 million views (although one was close at 970,000 views). Following the Oroville Dam crisis in February, I had two photospheres reach past the one million mark, with one reaching past two million.

In my experience, the most successful spheres are those that are featured in Google’s search results. I don’t have definitive proof that this is the case, but I’ve found the images that featured in the search results seem to perform best. The example that came to mind was my photosphere for Bear Hole in Bidwell Park. I was surprised when I saw it suddenly surge beyond 100,000 views. I wasn’t sure why it was performing so well.

The most plausible explanation was that it was featured on the search results on Google Map. When I searched for Chico, CA in Google Maps, the search engine returns a map of the city, but there’s also a card showing useful information — and photos of the city. Often times, these are popular pics of major landmarks or the like. Google also includes photospheres. This is often from its own Street View service, but it increasingly appears to include photospheres taken by its users.

A Google Maps card for Oroville, California on Monday, May 29, 2017. The top image is from one of my photospheres.

A Google Maps card for Oroville, California on Monday, May 29, 2017. The top image is from one of my photospheres.

I think this is behind my most “popular” photospheres, including ones taken at regional parks, train stations or other landmarks likely to be searched by people.

Adding credence to my theory was another photosphere of Bear Hole taken by another user. I saw that it too was featured at times in the Google Maps search results and it had a view count similar to mine,

That brings me to the incident that brought my views surging to new heights. In early February, there was a natural disaster that prompted the evacuation of more than 200,000 people in Northern California. Although the emergency spillway at Oroville Dam didn’t breach, I imagine there were a lot of people interested in learning the location of Oroville Dam and the surrounding area.

Indeed, the most popular photospheres featured the now-destroyed main spillway at the dam. It’s interesting that my most popular image is something that no longer exists.

The second most popular image for me was a photosphere of sculptures at Centennial Park in Oroville. It’s not associated with the park because there’s no entry for the park on Google Maps, but it is the first thing that comes up on Google Maps when someone searches for Oroville.

Several other images from Oroville have jumped following the Oroville Dam crisis, but those are by far the most popular.

I don’t know if a view is counted merely because someone sees it on a search result or if someone actually clicked through to see the full image. I would like to think it’s the later, but information on Google support forums indicates that merely seeing an image in a search result counts as a view.

Ultimately, I would like to think that people are viewing my images — it’s nice to think that millions of people are seeing my work. If it’s true, these images are the most popular thing that I’ve ever done.

 

The20: 5,000 days and counting

A custom-made calendar for March 2016.

A custom-made calendar for March 2016.

There’s a gag I do every so often in the spring where I include the number of days since a specific life moment happened. Of course, every year that I do it (which isn’t every year), I have to add 365 or 366 days to the tally.
This year, I realized that I was going to hit 5,000 days. It was bit shocking that so much time has passed since this original milestone in this facet of my life. 

At the same time, it is just _one_ element of my ongoing experience. It’s not something I can be fixated on because it ultimately isn’t very productive — it is what it is.

Although we scarcely need another reminder that time is fleeting, the milestone offers a bit of perspective especially because I certainly don’t want another 5,000 days to go by. I’ve made some steps to change the situation, but I haven’t been very successful (and if I’m being honest with myself, I could’ve certainly worked harder at this conundrum).

I think about the person I was those many years ago. I hope I’ve changed for the better since then, but I know there are many areas where I can improve.

Hopefully, this will all add up to something … someday.

UCSD basketball outdraws some Division I schools

UCSD's Main Gym is seen in this composite photo taken in the 1990s. Most indoor intercollegiate activities now take place at the RIMAC Center.

UCSD’s Main Gym is seen in this composite photo taken in the 1990s. Most indoor intercollegiate activities now take place at the RIMAC Center.

UCSD’s average attendance is around 250 out of 5000 seats — trising on The Big West Boards

The UC San Diego intercollegiate athletics program faces a key date this month, as the Big West Conference leadership is supposed to consider whether to invite UCSD into the conference (and thus determine whether the campus moves to NCAA Division I, per the outcome of last year’s student vote).

I’ve been paying more attention to the matter, including visiting a number of discussion boards centered around the Big West and other mid-major conferences. I spotted the above quote on one of the boards and wanted to respond because that information doesn’t match what I’ve seen. I’m also including some additional thoughts that have been on my mind.

UCSD men’s basketball average attendance has been several times higher than this figure in the past. It’s not going to compare with the top-flight Big West programs, but it’s better than the cited members.

Here’s the information from the NCAA on UCSD men’s basketball team’s average home attendance for the 2014-15 season*:

UCSD – men’s (D-II) — 11 games — 9,497 total attendance — 863 avg. per game

It beat the average NCAA Division II men’s basketball attendance ​of 710 per game in 2014. As a D-II program, UCSD also exceeded UC Riverside’s average attendance that year (762) and non-BWC Sacramento State’s (815). It also tied CSU Northridge that year in the category.

By comparison, UC Irvine’s average home attendance that year was 2,348 and UC Davis’ was 2,584. (Davis, Irvine, Northridge and Riverside are all in the Big West.)

Of course, UCSD’s figures reflect average home attendance over the entirety of the season (which was the standard that the original poster offered). Spirit Night attendance in 2015 was 3,881. If one wished to calculate the average WITHOUT the most popular game of the year, you get a per-game average of 562 — still twice the figure originally offered.


As an aside, UCSD women’s basketball average home attendance in 2014-15 (397) beat out UC Riverside (270) and UC Irvine (248). UC Davis had a respectable 1,049 while non-BWC San Diego State had a relatively woeful 604 (non-BWC University of San Diego also had 536).

I know a lot of attention is focused on the men’s basketball teams, but a single sport does not an athletic program make.

According to 2014 numbers (which may be the 2013-14 season, my notes are incomplete), UCSD men’s basketball had higher average attendance than 21 D-I schools (out of 345). The women’s team outdrew 31 D-I schools (out of 343).


Regarding the men’s basketball attendance figures, I did the initial research in part to show that moving to Division I isn’t a silver bullet for schools moving up. As a UCSD graduate watching UC Riverside move to D-I in the late 1990s, I thought that they made the move for the wrong reasons and their still-woeful basketball attendance may an indication that they may have missed the mark.

I’m still worried that UCSD students are seeking the move to D-I for the “wrong reasons” because merely moving up a division isn’t likely to deliver the supposed greater prestige of competition (no offense to BWC), higher alumni interest, boosted student spirit and increased relevance in a sports market that already includes two D-I schools and a MLB team. I’ve long backed an approach similar to UC Davis, which built up student and fan support years before moving to D-1.

At the same time, as any proud Triton will tell you, UCSD is NOT UC Riverside. Even as a D-II program, UCSD men’s basketball home attendance tops lower-tier BWC teams. Although it’s not a guarantee, UCSD would hopefully continue to top those numbers and grow as it moves into D-I.

Ultimately, I’m setting aside my personal reservations because UCSD students DID vote for the move and I pledged to back whatever the students decided (they’re paying for it, after all, and will reap the ultimate fruits of this endeavor).

With the figurative ball now in the conference’s court, I appreciate the discussions on this board and elsewhere. There seem to be a lot of factors at play, but I hope there’s a decision that works best for everyone.

Go Tritons (currently in the D-II Sweet 16) and Aggies (as they enter March Madness)! — Ryan


* — Why figures from 2014-15? Those were the ones available when I was researching the issue ahead of the UCSD students’ D-I vote last year.

The20: Fight on with mighty Triton spirit – Part I

As seen on Instagram, I debuted a new yellow UCSD T-shirt on Friday, Feb. 17, 2017, as the UC San Diego Tritons took on the Brigham Young University Cougars in Provo.

As seen on Instagram, I debuted a new yellow UCSD T-shirt on Friday, Feb. 17, 2017, as the UC San Diego Tritons took on the Brigham Young University Cougars in Provo.

I’ve been a pretty vocal opponent to the possibility of UC San Diego moving to Division I. Despite my past reservations about D-I (which seems highly likely at this point), it was a total blast to once more cheer on the UCSD Tritons in men’s volleyball tonight against Brigham Young University.

This was a match I had been looking forward to ever since I moved to Provo last May — men’s volleyball is the only Triton team that regularly competes against a team in Utah. When I was in Chico, UCSD and Chico State were in the same conference, so there were always a couple of opportunities every year to cheer for the blue and gold in sports like basketball, baseball, softball and women’s volleyball.

Although I hoped to be loudly cheering for the Tritons on Friday, I knew that there would be a lot more people rooting for the Cougars. Watching some past volleyball matches on BYUtv, I knew that the Smith Fieldhouse can be a loud atmosphere but I wanted UCSD to have a voice there as well. I also bought a new, bright yellow Triton T-shirt for the occasion. All of my previous shirts were shades of blue, which would probably blend in with the Cougar blue that was sure to fill the stands.

When it came to buying the tickets earlier this week, I was a bit at a loss — I didn’t know if there would be any Triton supporters in attendance and where they might sit (and the reserved seats weren’t necessarily cheap). The box office staff at the Marriott Center was friendly, but they didn’t know either. Eventually, I just settled for the $5 general admission ticket and decided to take my chances.

On game day, I donned my new shirt and made my way north to the BYU campus. Parking was super-easy as the expansive fieldhouse lot is available to the public after 4 p.m. or so.

The fieldhouse itself was a quirky older building, with a narrow indoor track ringing the court and seating area. I made my way past the clearly reserved seats to the opposite side of the court. I asked a man handing out programs if this where the general admission seats were. He said yes and commented that I was brave wearing that shirt inside the fieldhouse.

As I made my way into the arena, I saw blue, plastic hard-backed bucket seats. The aisle seats were all marked “reserved,” and I assumed that only _those_ seats were reserved. That was an erroneous assumption, but I wouldn’t find out about that until later.

I found a great seat about five or six rows up near center court (but not on the center line because it had the “reserved” sign on it). I picked the side that I knew the Tritons would be on and settled in. I noted that the playing area on the court was smaller than it looks on TV. I’ve attended dozens of volleyball games, so I’m used to the court dimensions but the difference in perspective was fascinating.

It was about 30 minutes before the start of the match, so I took a self-portrait to post online. I also dashed to the concessions stand for a couple of waters because I knew it was unlikely that I would be able to leave my seat once the match began (a prediction that generally proved correct). The crowd slowly trickled in. I looked about several times to see if there were any other Triton fans in attendance, but I wasn’t having much luck.

All too quickly, the countdown clock wound down and it was time for the match to begin. After singing “The Star-Spangled Banner” along with the crowd over a very loud recorded instrumental version of the song, it was game time.

To be continued…