Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Is Roller Derby Really A Sport?

This is a reply to a blog entry made by Arizona Derby Dames' co-founder Suzy Homewrecker about the legitimacy of today's roller derby as a sport. I thought I would share it here.

Was Roller Derby A Sport? Yes and No.
When I was growing up as a young kid in the mid-1970's, I remember watching the banked track roller derby on TV. When I was about 5 or 6, I thought that all skating was done on a banked track like the roller derby. Imagine the feeling when I visited my first roller rink in Kennesaw GA at the age of 7 to discover that the floor was flat. I figured at the time, OK, this makes it easier. When I was a kid, I remember the girls and guys skating in periods. I did not understand the scoring but I remember the arena announcer yelling "FHHIIIIVE TEEEE-BIIIRRRD POINTS!!". Yes, there was the drama of Georgia Hase, oops. that's MIZZ Georgia Hase but I did not think anything of it. My conclusion was that this is sport, like baseball, football and stock car racing. As I got older, I was introduced to the WWF. This was during the time of personalities like Classy Freddie Blassie, Rowdy Roddy Piper and King Kong Bundy (the latter I eventually met in person at a CES in Las Vegas). When I watched the moves these wrestlers were making and all of the in-between drama (which was significantly less than today's WWE), I came to the conclusion that this was fake and it was not a sport. Then I remembered all of that roller derby I used to watch and still occasionally saw at the time. I made the determination that derby was fake and the moves were choreographed for entertainment. The nail was put in derby's coffin when "Rollergames" aired with commentary by wanna-be conservative blowhard, the late Wally George. (Interesting enough, George used to advertise T-Bird roller derby on his show before Rollergames came around).

Is Today's Roller Derby A Sport? Yes and Yes!
After more years of growing up and rediscovering myself, I had pretty much forgotten about derby and regarded it as something of a bygone era until I saw a report in 2006 on KTLA out of Los Angeles (I get some LA stations on my dish here in PHX) about the L A Derby Dolls. It was the same style banked track but there was some distinct differences. First of all, the clean cut uniforms has been replaced with punk t-shirts, tattoos, fishnets and piercings. Did I also mention that the guys were gone? (I never liked watching the guys anyway, their style of play was not as fun as watching the girls.) My first reaction was "OMG, roller derby still exists? And they have improved on it!".

Not Only Is Derby A Sport, But The People In Derby Are Real.
Again, I did not think anything of it until my next door neighbor came over to borrow my computer, she does on occasion. Anyway, I decide to check out her Myspace site. In the profile, were a bunch of references to AZDD and Coffin Draggers. Turns out my next door neighbor was a former AZDD and Renegades skater. So, I checked out AZDD on my own. Recalling the KTLA report, I thought to myself, "OMG, they actually have that here? (in AZ)" Turns out that one of the places that sells tickets is a place that I have done business with for years and I personally knew the owner. I went down there to inquire about their connection with derby and it turns out that the owner is a popular skater. That was it. I'm hooked. I looked further into the league. I got refamiliarized with the sport's basics, rules, scoring, etc. I then looked further into the league and started participating in the AZDD Fan Forum and showed up at some events. I eventually became known as "Michi-chan Scrapper Fan" (The name Michi-chan has it's origins well outside of derby). The AZDD folks have been nothing but accommodating to me.

Even The Injuries Are Real.
I finally lost my rollervirginity on April 21, 2007 when my favorite team The School Yard Scrappers (why I attached myself to this speicific team is a totally different story) lost to the Bombshells 87-46 and I saw my newly made friend whom I immediately gained a lot of respect for in a short period of time, fall on her back in the second period of the bout and had to be carried out on a stretcher.

Take It From This Insider.
As a non-skater who has had an opprotunity to put her foot slightly on the inside of AZDD, I can tell you that AZDD (and AZRD) are real sport. The skating is real, the moves are real, the take downs are real and most importantly, the injuries are real. Now, there may be a time or two where something is pre-planned (such as Red Rocker giving me my first real taste of derby just before the June bout during the entrances.), but what you see from buzzer to buzzer is the real thing. If you want to experience true real derby, get to the venue early and get trackside (just remember to stay behind the buffer line and don't place kids in the very front) to get the best derby experience. In AZDD, we have signs on the floors that say "Watch for flying skaters." Just watch the highlight videos, you will see what I mean.

We'll see you at the bout!


Friday, May 18, 2007

412!!?!?! WHAT'S A 412?

This is a popular expression on the W0KIE Satellite Radio Network. It's a line from a Stan Freeburg comedy release called "Christmas Dragnet", in which the character "Grudge" who does not believe in anything was being read a whole bunch of charges. One of those charges is a "412", in which Grudge replies "Four-twelve! What's a four-twelve?".

On these classic cop shows like Dragnet, Adam 12 and even CHiPs which are based on California law enforcement, you may hear the 3 digit codes for various offenses. Some of the most popular ones you will hear are:
187 - Homicide
211 - Armed Robbery
415 - Civil Disturbance
502 - Driving Under the Influence

These codes come from the California Penal Code.

With that in mind, what is a 412? Well, interestingly enough, section 412 specifies the legality of exhibitions of amateur boxing. That's right boxing.

Here's a copy of Sec. 412 of the CPC (including the longest sentence I have ever seen...):
  • 412. Any person, who, within this state, engages in, or instigates, aids, encourages, or does any act to further, a pugilistic contest, or fight, or ring or prize fight, or sparring or boxing exhibition, taking or to take place either within or without this state, between two or more persons, with or without gloves, for any price, reward or compensation, directly or indirectly, or who goes into training preparatory to such pugilistic contest, or fight, or ring or prize fight, or sparring or boxing exhibition, or acts as aider, abettor, backer, umpire, referee, trainer, second, surgeon, or assistant, at such pugilistic contest, or fight, or ring or prize fight, or sparring or boxing exhibition, or who sends or publishes a challenge or acceptance of a challenge, or who knowingly carries or delivers such challenge or acceptance, or who gives or takes or receives any tickets, tokens, prize, money, or thing of value, from any person or persons, for the purpose of seeing or witnessing any such pugilistic contest, or fight, or ring or prize fight, or sparring or boxing exhibition, or who, being the owner, lessee, agent, or occupant of any vessel, building, hotel, room, enclosure or ground, or any part thereof, whether for gain, hire, reward or gratuitously or otherwise,
    permits the same to be used or occupied for such a pugilistic contest, or fight, or ring or prize fight, or sparring or boxing exhibition, or who lays, makes, offers or accepts, a bet or bets, or wager or wagers, upon the result or any feature of any pugilistic contest, or fight, or ring or prize fight, or sparring or boxing exhibition, or acts as stakeholder of any such bet or bets, or wager or wagers, shall be guilty of a misdemeanor, and upon conviction
    thereof, shall be fined not less than one hundred dollars nor more than one thousand dollars and be imprisoned in the county jail not less than thirty days nor exceeding one year; provided, however, that amateur boxing exhibitions may be held within this state, of a limited number of rounds, not exceeding four of the duration of three minutes each; the interval between each round shall be one minute, and the contestants weighing one hundred and forty-five pounds or over shall wear gloves of not less than eight ounces each in weight, and contestants weighing under one hundred and forty-five pounds may wear gloves of not less than six ounces each in weight.
  • All gloves used by contestants in such amateur boxing exhibitions shall be so constructed, as that the soft padding between the outside coverings shall be evenly distributed over the back of said gloves and cover the knuckles and back of the hands.
  • And no bandages of any kind shall be used on the hands or arms of the contestants.
  • For the purpose of this statute an amateur boxing exhibition shall be and is hereby defined as one in which no contestant has received or shall receive in any form, directly or indirectly, any money, prize, reward or compensation either for the expenses of training for such contest or for taking part therein, except as herein expressly provided.
  • Nor shall any person appear as contestant in such amateur exhibition who prior thereto has received any compensation or reward in any form for displaying, exercising or giving any example of his skill in or knowledge of athletic exercises, or for rendering services of any kind to any athletic organization or to any person or persons as trainer, coach, instructor or otherwise, or who shall have been employed in any manner professionally by reason of his athletic skill or knowledge; provided, however, that a medal or trophy may be
    awarded to each contestant in such amateur boxing exhibitions, not to exceed in value the sum of $35.00 each, which such medal or trophy must have engraved thereon the name of the winner and the date of the event; but no portion of any admission fee or fees charged or received for any amateur boxing exhibition shall be paid or given to any contestant in such amateur boxing exhibition, either directly or indirectly, nor shall any gift be given to or received by such contestants for participating in such boxing exhibition, except said
    medal or trophy.
  • At every amateur boxing exhibition held in this state and permitted by this section of the Penal Code, any sheriff, constable, marshal, policeman or other peace officer of the city, county or other political subdivision, where such exhibition is being held, shall have the right to, and it is hereby declared to be his duty to stop such exhibition, whenever it shall appear to him that the contestants are so unevenly matched or for any other reason, the
    said contestants have been, or either of them, has been seriously injured or there is danger that said contestants, or either of them, will be seriously injured if such contest continues, and he may call to his assistance in enforcing his order to stop said exhibition, as many peace officers or male citizens of the state as may be necessary for that purpose.
  • Provided, further, that any contestant who shall continue to participate in such exhibition after an order to stop such exhibition shall have been given by such peace officer, or who shall violate any of the regulations herein prescribed, for governing amateur boxing exhibitions, shall be deemed guilty of violating this section of the Penal Code and subject to the punishment herein provided.
  • Nothing in this section contained shall be construed to prevent any county, city and county, or incorporated city or town from prohibiting, by ordinance, the holding or conducting of any boxing exhibition, or any person from engaging in any such boxing exhibition therein.
Now mind you, I am not an expert in amateur boxing and therefore I do not know the origins of this law therefore I don't know if this is a law that is really enforced today or if it's one of those kind of archiac laws like cohabitation.

Regardless, Byron, you now know what a 412 really is.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

This Is Not Your Dad's Roller Derby

Growing up as a kid in Southern California, I grew up watching the Los Angeles T-Birds roller derby matches at the old Grand Olympic Auditorium. A few years ago, I remember stumbling back into the old 1970's-era matches on ESPN Classic. I still cringe at the archiac sports video quality from that era. To this day, I will sometimes yell out when I am excited about something "FI-I-I-I-I-VE T-BIRD POINTS!!!!". I did not care much for the men, but it was fun watching the girls engaging in those moving cat-fights on the banked track. To me, I found this more exciting than professional wrestling (with the exception of the tackyness of GLOW).

While traditional roller derby still exists, I also saw a very interesting story on KTLA awhile back about a resurgence of banked track roller sport that is more on the dark side. This story outlined the Los Angeles Derby Dolls, a group of girls bringing roller derby into the 21st century. Their slogan "skates, skirts, scars" really describes the high-speed action that crosses sport, live music and the tattoo scene.

While checking out the myspace page of one of my neighbors, I discovered that we have a similar league (not sure if they refer to them as "leagues") out here. The Arizona Derby Dames consists of several teams including the Coffin Draggers and the School Yard Scrappers. They are having an event coming up a week from Saturday (3/24/07) here in Phoenix.

Myself, I am not into the dark/tattoo scene (yet a good chunk of my wardrobe is black), I would be more of into the lolita scene, but I can say, this roller derby sounds like a lot of fun! I would love to see it someday! Hope it spreads, but does not go corporate. GALS-- KEEP ON THRASHING!!!!

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Where's the Cox repairperson??

We found all of the missing Cox cable repairmen who you were promised would come to fix your internet or cable service weeks ago. They are all at this hotel in Ahwatukee, AZ. It's unknown when they will come out. Better call Qwest.

A large number of Cox cable repair trucks parked in front of a hotel.

A large number of Cox cable repair trucks parked in front of a hotel at a different angle.

Monday, February 26, 2007

My first visit to GDB to meet my new friend

Yesterday, I decided to make my second A view of going over the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco to Marin County from inside the Marin AirPorter bus."non-rev adventure" since I have been working for US Airways. I decided to make a trip up to San Francisco International Airport and then continued on the Marin Airporter (note: portions of site not blind friendly) to San Rafael, CA. My final destination, the campus of Guide Dogs for the Blind. I was going up there to meet my best friend who is currently going through a 3-week "retrain" course where she will obtain a new guide dog. For the past couple of months, I have been my best friend's "guide" in many situations. All it takes is some skill, patience and a good elbow. But after she gets back from GDB, my elbow will be pretty much retired.

There are two training paths at GDB. The full training path for someone who has never had a guide dog before. This is a 4-week class. There is also the retrain course where those who have had a dog in the past can sharpen their skills and receive their new dog. In the case of my friend, she had a dog in the past from Leader Dogs who eventually had to be retired. She is really looking forward to her new dog.

The day that the GDB student looks forward to is "Dog Day" (or sometimes called "D-Day"). This is the day they are introduced to their new guide dog. For a retrain, this is usually later in the day of the first day. This is after some final touch-up work with "Juno", an empty harness that is guided by an instructor to put the students through various situations that could come up. On D-Day, my friend was introduced to her new guide dog Erica. Erica is a female yellow lab who (I believe) was raised in Arizona.

Picture of Erica sitting down in the tie-down area of the dorm room.I arrived at GDB just before noon and was greeted by the instructor on duty at the time. I was given the quick 5-cent tour of the dorm area and led to my friend's dorm room. They were under the impression that I may be coming but was not sure. When you work for an airline and you fly space-available, you only travel if there is room on the plane after all paying customers have been handled. The day before I left, it showed my flight being oversold. Fortunately, by the morning, there were some canceled reservations and eventually some "no-shows" at the gate which resulted in more seats being available. For a flight that was supposedly at one time oversold, it left with empty seats.
My friend answered the door after apparently a late sleep-in (I tried calling her on the way up to advise that I was in SFO and I was on the way). I gave her a big hug but I was also focused on Erica. She was in a tie-down area next to the bed. The tie-down area consists of a rug (the rest of the dorm room has no carpeting) and about a 4-foot cable attached to the wall. This is where the guide dog is secured at night and at other times since it is very possible that dorm room doors can be opened up and dogs, the creatures they are, are subject to "bolt". The tie-downs are there for the protection of the dog and the person who are working for.

Erica and Alberta playing harness-off with a nylon bone.I was then introduced to my friend's dorm-mate. A local girl from Berkeley who was getting a new dog. Her new dog Alberta is a female golden retriever. We all then closed the doors of the dorm and allowed Erica and Alberta to play. It was fun to watch them playing over a bone. Erica is definitely the dominant one. There were a lot of smiles in that room that day. It is very important that guide dogs have "off-duty" time. Even though us in the sighted world may see them as serious service animals (for which they are), they also recreate like other dogs do. But when the harness comes on, it's time to start working.
The students of this GDB class are being given a new design of harness (see page 2 of the PDF), which I have been told is the first class to receive this new design harness. The main feature of the new design is a plastic disconnect clamp where you push both plastic pieces together to disconnect the strap. This replaces the old "belt buckle" style of fastener. The new design harness seems to also do a lot better in the reflection department which will make the harness much more visible at night. The handle also detatches from the harness so the user of the dog can keep the dog "in harness" but take the handle off for long periods of sitting (such as working at a desk or airline travel).

The saddest point of the day was Michelle Eyre posing with Ericawhen I had to leave GDB to return to SFO to get my flight going home. I was looking at an 8PM flight through Las Vegas to come back to Phoenix and was planning to call into the Marlaina show on ACB Radio to talk a little about the day. I decided to take a 6:15PM flight directly to Phoenix and I called into the show during a time which I thought was "open forum" but she still had a guest on (my cellphone was dying and I did not want to spend a lot of time on Dial-A-Stream). I did talk very fast about it but she really wanted to talk about the subject. I was embarrassed. I still somewhat kick myself for that. Oh well.. I just wanted everyone to know what a great day I had. I returned home about 5 hours before I was thinking I would be home.

I spend a lot of time here exploring the world of blind-friendly electronic gadgets but I can tell that the best form of adaptive technology is not even technology, it is life. My friend graduates on March 10. I really hope I will be able to get the time off to be there. If I don't make it, I will be there in spirit.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

A new meaning to the term "nose gear"

An interesting thing happened to me today. I have been having car problems. Shawn recently replaced the EGR in our vehicle to eliminate a bucking problem. This was a problem that I thought was with the transmission. Since the EGR installation, the buck stopped here.

Now today, I was driving one of my blind friends and her guide dog around. I discover that suddenly the car stopped moving forward. I literally moved it into 2nd gear to get it going. I call Shawn, he meets me in a parking lot. Before I did that, I did some experiments in an open area of the parking lot. I made a very interesting discovery.

I have concluded her dog nudged the gear shift from Drive to Neutral. Over the years, the labeling of the gear shift had degraded and therefore I have no way to know what gear my car is in. I just count the clicks. I am really surprised how easy it is to change from drive to neutral in a 1997 Kia Sephia. Anyway, puppy spent the rest of the trip in the back seat. I still love these guide dogs. Maybe I should become a puppy raiser.

Have fun all!

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Call Your Stops! It's The Law! but call them clearly.

When I used to live in Southern California, I used to follow the operations of the Southern California Rapid Transit District (RTD), which eventually became the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA). When a bus operator was given their assignment for the day, it was placed on a piece of paper called a "paddle". The term "paddle" goes back to the old days when the bus run assignments and times were printed on wooden boards that looked like paddles.

In the RTD/MTA world, there is a message on all of the paddles that reads "Call Your Stops! It's The Law". A reminder to operators to follow the provisions of the ADA that require transit operators to call stops.

Some transit operators have looked at various ways to call the stops. In cities like Denver and Chicago, there are automated voice announcements on the rail system to announce the next stop. On some other systems, such as here in Phoenix, GPS based automated stop calling systems are used. Unfortunately, the GPS systems are sometimes inaccurate and therefore will not always call the correct stop or not call the stop until the bus passes the stop.

The one thing that these automated systems have in common is that the systems use the same voice throughout the system on each bus/train. This means that a blind user or other patron who is dependent on the stops being called will always hear the familar voice instead of the different voices of different operators.

On a recent trip to the San Francisco Bay Area, I have decided to ride BART from SFO Airport to the city.

The BART station platforms have synthesized speech systems that are used to advise of current trains on the platform as well as the departure times of future trains.

With my recent exploration into issues that affect the blind and visually impaired, I decided to try something. I decided to take my seat and close my eyes (I was tired from the trip already) and I was planning to depend on BART to properly call the stop in order for me to determine which stop to get off at.

The first thing I have noticed was that the quality of the speaker in the train was very bad. It was almost up there as the stereotypical fast-food restaurant drive-thru speaker. Not only that, but the train operator had some lingual difficulty saying the station names. Oh yeah, did I mention that BART still uses their train operators and not an automated system to call the stops on board the trains?

Now, even though I am familiar to the basics of BART, I am not totally familiar with the stations along the route, especially the names and locations of stations along Market St. So, I came on board this BART train, unfamilar with the system and depended on BART to get me to the right station.

I needed to get off at the Powell St. station. I was meeting my sister in Union Square.

As we get closer, I have noticed mumbling that sounds like "Civic Center". I knew that was one of the stations along the route but I did not know how many stations there was between Civic Center and Powell. I do know if I was to hear something like "Embarcadero", I better get off that train or else I will wind up in Oakland. After Civic Center, I have heard something that sounded like "Pawastree". Because I needed to go see my sister, I opened my eyes and noticed, yes, I am at Powell St. I exited the train.

I think that my experiment has proven that a blind, visually impaired or other user who is visiting a particular city (like San Francisco) can not always depend on the names of the stations being clearly called. Seasoned users of the system may be able to count stops to their station but for us visitors, we are at the mercy of the train operators, at least when we are riding BART.

I really hope this changes soon.

p.s. I did the same experiment on the way back to the airport. I was able to hear the stops much clearer on that train and I was able to exit the train to the SFO station.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Learning Braille

Last Thursday, I started taking a class that will hopefully hold out to be interesting. I am starting to learn Braille Transcription. This class is taking place at The Foundation For Blind Children in Phoenix, AZ. This course, which only starts once a year and goes through the entire year prepares students to take the Braille Transcription Certification from the Library of Congress.

Certified Braille transcribers are responsible for the translations of books, texts and even sheet music into Braille. Many of them work on a volunteer basis for many organizations. While there are other options these days for the blind to experience literary works such as through audio books or through "e-books", there will always be a need for paper publications written in Braille.

American Braille is done in two "grades". Grade 1 Braille is simply the alphabet, punctuation and various special punctuation marks specific to Braille. Grade 2 Braille takes what was learned in Grade 1 but then makes commonly used words and syllables into a more contracted format for a more compact document. In some ways, I associate learning Grade 1 Braille as like learning Japanese hiragana and katakana where learning Grade 2 Braille is like learning Japanese kanji. The training I am going through is intended to make me proficient in Grade 2 Braille.

Myself, I want the skills taught in this course to be able to understand Grade 2 Braille and be able to use it for both writing (either using a computer driven embosser, through the use of a manual brailler or the good ol' slate and stylus) and reading (by touch, not viewing the paper). I don't know how deep this course will get into reading by touch, so I have taken the liberty to learn this piece myself. I am hoping that someday, my Braille and adaptive technology skills will allow me to advance in my current job or allow me to find employment elsewhere.

While I have always a fairly close connection to the blind community and an interest in adaptive technology, I think this new found interest is partially motivated by my current employer. I am very happy that they are trying to do their best to make the workplace adaptive to those with visual impairments. Unfortunately, we still have a long way to go. While we may have adaptive technology like JAWS for Windows, we still have ancient ancillary equipment in the office that hinders full accessibility and we also have to educate others in the workplace such as management, the union and other peers on the adaptive technology that we use, why it is important and what else can be done to make the workplace accessible for our current employees as well as future employees with disabilities.

I am currently very involved with this initiative and I am proud to say I have made many new friends as a result of this relationship. I look forward to a very prosperous and productive 2007 for everyone who is involved with this initiative.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Farewell to a childhood friend

I have been informed that Bruce Allen Brodsky, a person who I have known since the late 1970's was found dead at his home on Wednesday. The cause of death is unknown at this time. He was (I believe) about 45.

I first met Bruce when I was about 9 years old. He lived across the street. He had set up a model railroad in his garage. I was a transit bus (SCRTD) fan and there is obviously a connection between busfanning and railfanning, especially at a young age.

As I grew up, Bruce was there like a big brother. Bruce was responsible for me getting an interest in aviation, which indirectly has lead me to the career that I have today. Bruce also got me into CB radios, a hobby that eventually evolved into my interest in Amateur Radio and eventually to the Advanced Class ham license that I hold today.

Bruce also introduced me to Zzzygot Dial-A-Joke and some of the aspects of phone phreaking. This eventually lead to my interest in phones, the creation of REC Networks as a telephone entertainment service and eventually a 20-year career in the telecommunications industry.

In fact, the first voice ever heard on a California Comments (the original name of REC) recording was Bruce calling my machine and saying the words "it works!".

Back around 1980, I introduced Bruce to one of my sisters. They eventually got married and had two children. At the time of his death, they were going through a contested divorce.

Bruce was a very significant part of my life and was a significant influence for virtually everything that REC Networks is into these days. I credit Bruce for a lot of this.

I will miss you my friend. I love you like a brother. Sayonara tomodachi. Unfortunately, Bruce never had a chance to meet Michelle.