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Sunday, 14 April 2013


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I remember watching the British program Pot Black (if I remember rightly)in my youth, showcasing billiards (or whichever of the games it was; I get them all mixed up). I remember it being enthralling, but maybe the staid British commentary had a lot to do with it. I don't know if it was shown here in the US, this was back in Oz.


Pool for those Wisconsin winters, golf for late spring through late fall? There are some wonderful landscape photo opportunities out there on the golf course (excuse to buy that Coolpix A). :-)

Re: Rule Reform...

...not much of a basketball fan, but watched a few of the games. Still amazed when someone gets called for traveling, it seems like everyone is always just running around out there, unencumbered. The refs from the 70's would have a field day...

An enjoyable post Mike, and I didn't even skim. Brought back memories of my dad using pool for the same reason. I wonder if there are any pool playing clubs in your area. I joined a photo club a year ago, and while it has done little for my photography, the social aspects feel good, and now I often know the other photographers I encounter out in the field. My guess is that you should be able to find at least a couple reliable pool buddies for regular games.

Have a look at that, play with your readers and contributors in the annual or weekly TOP-tournament from the comfort of home: http://www.mywebsport.com/en

And three-cushion (is this really the official name?) is amazing, surprisingly players do not all have advances mathematics or physics degrees.

The sister game of snooker used to get big viewing figures in UK with a programme called Pot Black which produced one of the most quoted sports commentary gaffs, "For those of you watching in black and white the pink is next to the green"

"...also that I need to be on my feet and move around more..."

Got same advice from my doctor. Got me a treadmill, and I'm doing 30 minutes per day while listening to music from an MP3 connected to the treadmill speakers.

And when it's nice out, I take a 30 minutes brisk walk. Beneficial for the heart and at same time, it clears the mind.

Mike, couldn't agree with you more on video. There is a lot of discussion about the convergence of stills and video, but I've always believed them to be fundamentally different media, for exactly the reason you state: time domain control. It's why I've never been able to get into audio books, either, even back when I spent a lot of time driving.

So I think that while still and video may merge from the technical, capture, side (giving us both endless flexibility in use and endless headaches in editing), there will always remain a difference in the application side of things–there will always remain a place for still photos in news, for example, even when the last newspaper has been printed, thrown away, and completely bio-degraded...

Shame I'm in the UK.

Interesting cultural differences between your and my countries; in the UK we have snooker halls rather than pool halls, with pool being more of a pub game. I'd guess about 50% of the pubs in Devon when I was growing up had a pool table. You'd put money in a slot to release the balls with the winner staying on the table and anyone else who wanted a game put their name on a blackboard and paid for the next frame when your name was called, so if you were good you could get a lot of free games.
I grew up watching snooker on a B&W TV with my dad, so you had to concentrate to remember the colours - seven shades of grey! there is a famous blooper I remember from a commentator which goes along the lines of "for those of you watching in B&W the blue ball is the one behind the pink ball". It's still a popular televised sport shown on the BBC and popular in various Asian countries.
First televised 147 break http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CgnAIsPY8hA

Here basketball is called netball and is played by schoolgirls -ducks-for-cover-

We got up this AM to watch Formula1 and are now watching the US Masters, polar opposites but both fascinating.

My brother used to watch the snooker on TV years ago. Two things made this difficult. First, it was a black and white TV, and second the picture was 20" but the TV screen was only 12"; he could only see the centre of the picture. He had to rely on the audience's reaction to know if the ball had gone in the pocket. : ]

Mike, over here in the UK "pocket billiards" is slang for another solo pursuit.

Steve, Pot Black was a TV program featuring a shortened frame of snooker with less reds than the fifteen in a normal frame.


"Admit it, you're skimming now. I'm not offended."

Sorry, I had actually leaned forward and was paying close attention.

(even more so than earlier when I was checking the tracking number and progress of the camera I hope will arrive today - mind you, it was displayed much larger)

1. Mike and Jamie, repeat after me, "There is no spring in Wisconsin".

That's why I'm in Arizona now.

2. Mike, I will play pool with you, but I'm in Arizona now.

You, Mike Johnston, are a threat to my time and wallet. Your recent post in which you mentioned Wisconsin's billiard cue manufacturers reignited an old passion of mine. I dug around in the shed and found my old cue, which in addition to being a bit dinged up turned out to be inadequate by modern standards, so I bought a new one. And a case for it. And a very cool little tip tool. I have also been taking advantage of the Internet's magical ability to deliver endless streams of video footage on just about any subject imaginable, absorbing hours of pro pool games in a way that simply wasn't possible "back in the day," as they say. I also used said magical Internet thingy to locate no fewer than five pool halls within a leisurely drive from my house.

It has begun, you are partly to blame, and I thank you. :-)

Too bad we're not in closer proximity, Mike. I'd take you up on an evening of billiards every so often. I dislike 9-ball -- it's too quick and strictly for betting -- but love "straight pool". In fact in my (much, much) younger days I spent time in tournament circuits...and even still have one of my cues!

You won't get much exercise from walking around, or leaning over, a pool table but it sure can be good fun! I've not played in 20+ years.

No offence, Mike, but you know your doctor wants you to actually move. Move like brisk walking for 30+ minutes per day, not stand around a pool table. There is no free lunch and you know it. We all, myself included, are dealing with this -- certainly as we grow older and split our time between work and home duties.

[I hear you, but no; I'm already doing my walking. He thinks it will be a good thing for me to be on my feet and moving around a bit in a variety of ways, stretching, bending, etc. Good for my back. The pool will serve.... --Mike]

I have a sister-in-law who talked of various diets for years and was getting nowhere fast. Some months ago she finally started running. Combined with a healthy diet she is not only losing weight, but feeling better. It has become a drug of its own. She can't imagine not exercising.

Instead of renting, or buying, yet another camera, get yourself a treadmill (if you don't have one already) to use in the winter months. And most importantly, use it. No, you don't have to run. You can walk at a fast pace. You and I, both.

Is your doctor new to the upper midwest? It sounds like he has never seen a case of cabin fever before.
By the way growing up in North Dakota we called snow on the deck "a sucky 4th of July".
Anyway I got the "get some exercise" talk last check up. I'm walking a couple of miles a day now with a pocket camera in my coat. No pool halls around here so that's what I am trying out.

Your choice of pool as exercise has a fine literary precedent - Nero Wolfe in the later books.

Of course, he had room in the basement of the brownstone for his own table...

RE: Your observations on time. You just nailed what I don't like about video. Your comment reminded me of a tall ship cruise I took. Now I have to say that it was a terrific experience and I'm glad I did it but... I was confined to the ship (a rather small ship) and where the captain wanted it to go. For me watching video has that same sense of cutting off options. And before you ask, no I don't like video games even though I have more control.

Pool tables... my lovely wife grew up with a pool table in the basement and three older siblings. Back when we had time to go to the "Irish" pub in Evanston, she would (sheepishly) shark many a frat boy out of their beer money.

Not bad for a hobby, but you should get out more than once a week to be a "regular."

Efren "Bata" Reyes (locally, The "Kid"), a.k.a. "The Magician" in pool circles for his "impossible" shots, was inducted to the BCA Hall of Fame in 2003.

He also plays chess. The ability to see several moves ahead—if not the entire "table"—is essential to success in both games. I suck equally at both.

Most Filipino pool players, the world-beaters, didn't go to college. They have a highly developed spatial (pattern recognition) and kinesthetic (mind-body coordination) intelligences which can't be learned at school.

Just trying out the "capcha" with a link thrown in. I look at it as an exercise in visual acuity and pattern recognition. So I don't mind. I like the capcha "blurb" :).

"(I love watching golf on TV. Yes, I know most people don't.)"

Which means, I suppose, like me you just finished watching today's fabulous final round of the Masters. So if you need some exercise, why not golf? It's an incredible game and sport - just you and the landscape. And you can do it till you're in your 90s or later.

Keep trying, I've played a fair bit of pool and it does start to come more naturally over time, (seeing ahead I mean) The same can also be said of Chess, very much a "think ahead" kind of game and one I've not played in some years. must fix that.

A couple of decades ago I was (what I thought to be) an above average player and after watching a particular tavern for a while from a distance, I noted that ingress and egress was sufficient, the clientel wasn't too loud, and no serious drinking or any fighting was going on, so I decided to try the thrill of playing a game of eight ball with a stranger. I put my quarter down and waited and watched. The two gentlemen playing before me were ok, but I was confident I could have beaten either one. My turn came up, the winner put my quarter into the slot pushed the lever and the balls dropped and he racked them. He seemed to be very fastidious about setting the balls, and I felt that this was a good thing. He chalked his cue, bent over, pulled his cue stick back, and with one stroke sunk the eight ball on the break. I didn't (and truthfully still don't) know the rules well enough to know if sinking the eight ball on the break is a "win" but I noticed that the 1/2 second it took for me to compute this caused the whole room to go quiet, and I was glad that I had scoped out the copious exits ahead of time and made careful and deliberate use of same. I think someone was trying to tell me that I didn't belong there and I listened.

Pool & Photography
Pool is how I got my darkroom as a kid. My father thought it would nice to get a pool table , but since there was no space in the house for a pool table he proposed building a small outbuilding to house the pool table. The rest of the extended family (I grew up on a multi generational family farm) comprising a bunch of architects and engineers for whom designing and constructing buildings was somewhere between a hobby and competitive sport thought this was a fine idea. We had a dairy barn that looked vaguely Frank Lloyd Wright built of terra cotta, who knows what they would come up with for humans. My mother thought that if we going to build a pool room, we should add on a pottery studio, and I figured if there was going to plumbing for a pottery studio there may as well be a darkroom. In short order the pool room accreted a laundry room, a small office, an 1870 square grand piano, a painting studio and while they were are at it lots of wall space for hanging art and storing books.

Unexpected snow in mid April
Some years later I was living in an old dairy barn on an old hudson river estate. On April 14 I bought a 69 Chevy convertible for $300 to replace my car with 400 colors of paint but no reverse gear. The low price was in part on account of there being no canvas on the top only the frame, but it was April. I figured that while waiting for the new top from JC Whitney driving in light rain with no roof would be fun and girls like that sort of thing. Of course the next morning, April 15 it had snowed nearly a foot , and in order to get to the post office to mail my taxes I had to not only dig a path for the car to get to the road , but I also had to dig out the drivers seat and drive to town in a car full of snow to mail my tax returns.

Oh and it turns out that the sound of the cue stick striking the ball is to me much like the sound of chalk squeaking on a blackboard, so I never really played any pool.

Damn you Mike. I've just spent another hour watching Ronnie O'Sullivan! Here's more brilliance - http://youtu.be/dnYvlQq3_wk

You've nailed the problem with video (streaming media in general), of course. Seems like there's a strongly bi-modal distribution, too; at work I'm being told repeatedly that we must have an introductory video on the site because people won't take the time to read text -- but reading the text takes me much less time than the projected length of this video. I'm fighting for both, and I think I may even win that one. I think lots of both kind of person exist.

Similarly, people talk about "the short-attention-span" generation preferring video, but my objection to video is precisely that it wastes my time usually.

(I have nothing to say against first-rate video made for people who like my kind of information-flow rate -- except that depending on mood and interruptions my information flow requirements change. And of course some things I really do find easiest to understand with an integrated sound / sight / motion presentation.)

I was going to recommend UK coverage of billiards-type sports, but I see that's already been covered. I also have seen a surprising amount on ESPN and related places. Good players are really amazing (and, like basketball, there are also trick players who do really amazing tricks that are too risky or require too precise a setup for real play, but are still amazing).

Haven't watched enough basketball to notice the problems you mention at the end. Maybe they hadn't figured it out yet back when I watched a few games? But it sounds devastating to the flow of the game. That's the problem with basketball anyway, the flow is interrupted far too often. Football has brilliantly avoided that by having the game proceed in short segments -- thus making it boring most of the time. If not as totally and overwhelmingly boring as baseball, which I have never understood why anybody ever gives a second glance to.

The bloody damned Captcha is gonna drive me batty, though. Took me three times to find one where my guess was acceptable to the system, and on all of the three it really was a guess, they're so distorted I'm never sure what they're supposed to say.

I happily create accounts for sites I use FAR less than TOP. I'm pretty sure you could configure it so people who want to can create an account, and when logged in don't have to face the Captcha. Then people could choose their particular preferred annoyance and you'd still keep the spam down to a dull roar.

Ah. Memories. I recall fondly many many games of snooker while at uni. Of course Walter Lindrum is considered by those of us 'down under' to be one of (if not the) greatest exponents of the felted tabletop.

Hey Mike, I recall seeing a cool old Twilight Zone episode about pool (or probably billiards). It was a two character story and the two stars are both recently deceased. Jack Klugman and Jonathan Winters. Here's the IMdB page for the episode: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0734540/ Basically it was cashing in on the popularity of the film The Hustler.


Over here 'Pocket Billiards' is played with both hands in trousers pockets.

Netball is a different game to basketball. In netball there is no back board behind the net.

Basketball is quite popular in Irish schools and colleges.

Welcome (back) to the world of pool, Mike. I myself picked up a cue for the first time 17 years ago at the age of 40. I don't play a lot, but I very much enjoy the game. Were I not located in New Jersey and a thousand miles removed, I'd very much like to take you up on your offer to play.

Serious pool playing has been in decline for a good many years in the USA, , and it is hard to find a poolroom in many parts of the country. Even if a room is available (your post sounds promising in this regard), there may not be a cadre of experienced players to learn from. In this case, watching professional matches online can be a godsend in the learning process. In addition to the recorded matches on Youtube, you can find a schedule of live webcasts and tournament coverage online at azbilliards.com.

If you were self-taught as a youngster, it would be very worthwhile for you to pick up an instructional book or two before you return to the tables. You'll get a grounding in the game's fundamentals before you have a chance to pick up (or revert to) any bad habits. The physical fundamentals are simple, and easy to learn and apply, but are critical to proficient and consistent play.

Allow me to recommend Robert Byrne's New Standard Book of Pool and Billiards, available via Amazon. The book is a modern classic and Byrne (who has also had several non-pool titles published) is a talented writer.

(The literary standards of the pool world are distressingly low, with the exceptions of Byrne, George Fels, and R.A. Dyer. All three of these are eminently readable, and their works go beyond instructionals to cover the colorful history and lore of the game. I'd recommend all three to you).

I hope you enjoy your return to the game, and that you'll keep us posted on your progress.

so I thought I'd take up pool. Pocket billiards, that is

Over here, that doesn't mean what you think it means!

Wouldn't it be lovely to play pool with Mike? He could bring a coffee press, I'd have a beer or two...I would really love to do that.

And I have been watching 9 ball on the screens at the gym lately. Quite an interesting game, (also moderating comments for my own blog on the treadmill the meanwhile). They occasionally have American baseball on too, which I was astonished to find was about 5 times more tedious than cricket! I was not expecting that.

Without trying to delve into your personal life, I wonder what goal your physician had in mind when he prescribed a hobby. In this circumstance, a great many people respond to such a prescription by selecting/defaulting to a hobby that perpetuates, rather than relieves, the "condition" that the hobby is supposed to help.
Let's say, for example, that a person writing a photography blog several days a week (a stressful deadline-driven activity) was in need of a hobby to find relaxation and stress reduction. But, that person, without the benefit of a goal in mind, selected an activity, like billiards, that created the stress of competition against one's self as well as one's opponent. That won't help the person find much respite, will it? Just food for thought.
Why not dancing? You can polka with those Swedes all year round (haha).

For some time I really enjoyed watching snooker.


Ice Cube: Yesterday, April 14, was the average ice-out day for Twin Cities lakes; this year on that day the ice was still a foot or more thick.

Pool as a popular sport: Snooker was the sport my wife's uncle was watching on TV during our visit to the UK eight years ago. I was somewhat bemused by it, because pool is not that popular on this side of the ocean.

Exercise: Spring through fall, I go for a 30-40 minute walk before breakfast. In winter I work out on one of the original Nordic Track ski exercise machines, which are a bit like a self-propelled treadmill with optional arm exercise. They're no longer made, but you can sometimes find one at a garage sale for $10-$15, and they fold up very compactly -- great for a small house like yours. For extra incentive, this winter I installed a small TV and DVD player over the Nordic Track, so I can watch movies and video lectures while I work out. They really make the time go fast.

It can do you nothing but good to get out and talk to people face to face.

I'm in a motorcycle club. There's about 15 of us and we all all in an email group. We email to the group all the time. It's used for organising meetings and events, spreading news, discussions, making dreadful puns and taking the p!ss out of each other.

It's pretty good, but it's nowhere near as good as actually meeting up and having a chat. We had a ride out yesterday to a cafe and I felt great when I got home.

It was fun to ride the bike, especially as it was the first nice weekend of the year, but the bike riding is just the framework and shared experience for the socialising that means so much to us all.

This is one time where I must respectfully disagree with you, Mike. I love spring college basketball--the NCAA tournament and the Sweet Sixteen and I am sorry it is over. Yes, I'm sure that part of my interest this year was due to how well my home town team (University of Michigan) did in the tournament after a 20 year drought brought on by the Fab 5 scandal. But, my overriding interest is generated by the fact that in college ball, especially during the tournament, on any given day, in any given game, even the lowest ranked team might show up, elevate their play, and depose the number one ranked team. Nothing is for sure and it ain't over til it's over! Some kid you have never heard of can turn it on and become a star in one period of one game. I find the lack of predicability and the fact that these boys are playing their hearts out makes those few weeks very entertaining indeed.

Pool/billiards is a fine game. But what happened to cycling and that fine Rivendell I remember hearing about?

[I wish. No Rivendell for me. Mine's a mid-level Cannondale, which is nice enough. It's on the way to the shop for its annual tuneup. Under the theory that it has to get warm around here sooner or later. --Mike]

I wish I didn't live half a continent away, as I'd love to play you. My game isn't as strong as it once was, but it's still good fun playing when I can. I've played in the same pool league for 24 years (and am in their Hall of Fame - my proudest accomplishment), and joining that league completely changed my life for the better. Most of my friends I met in the league and they have done so much for me. Pool hall culture is different than a league, with a few too many weird people (colorful, but tiring.) Pool leagues also have their characters, but the percentage is lower.

Efren Reyes is every bit as charming in real life as he seems on TV. He's one of the rare nice people in the pro ranks. He was always a wiry guy until developing major health problems, so his paunch is meaningless. Hardcore players seem to run to the physical extremes. Very fat or scrawny. They either eat too much junk food or forget to eat at all. I also like watching golf on TV without playing.

And I second the recommendation of the Byrne book. He is analytical and has been involved in research on the physics of pool, so gives accurate, detailed explanations of what happens when tip hits cue ball.

There is a great trap, skeet, and rifle range down in Bristol, WI, about an hour south of you. Both types of shooting (guns and photography) are addictive and get you outside.


I'd engage in a game of pool with ya. Just down the road in Milwaukee.


I've been playing for 35 years and it's a great compliment to photography. If you just want to play for fun, then play when you can and don't think twice about pool books because they'll just make you crazy and likely screw up whatever game you have. But if you want to learn to play well, or above average, then I'd take a lesson or two from Jerry Briesath in Madison, one of the great teachers. He has videos on youtube, check him out.


Dear Mike,

This reminds me of a fellow from my days at Caltech back in the sixties, by the name of Steve Pomeroy. He was unusual even by Caltech standards. He was an extraordinarily natty dresser, had a predilection for foreign-made cigarettes was very exotic blends and he did serious weight training (none of these were common characteristics of college students in the late sixties, especially the weight training; the combination may very well have been unique). He was short but rectangular, built like a brick. He could bench press considerably more than his own weight, which was not inconsiderable given his physique.

Steve was a pool hustler. It's how he'd made a living before coming to Caltech. It was said he owned an apartment building, maybe more than one, in the Midwest where he grew up, that he acquired by hustling pool. I believe it. It was also said that he made enough from his calling to pay his way through Caltech. I definitely believe that.

None of this came from Steve, it was just something we all *knew*. Hell, it might even have been true.

We played eightball. Not because I was any good, but because Steve was so good that he could play with anyone and make the game interesting for them, and it was always enjoyable for him. That was something I learned from Steve–– sometimes, when you're really, really good at something, it's fun just to relax and lay back and not have to work any harder than you have to at what you love to do. As for me, I never won a game, and I knew I'd never win a game, but it was for the fun of playing, because he made sure it was going to be fun for both parties.

Likely, he wouldn't have been able to find anyone to play with him more than once, otherwise, and he did like to play…

As for me, I think I like playing pool with him better than anybody else, precisely because it wasn't ever about winning, it was about enjoying the playing.

Always wondered what happened to him after he graduated. Had this feeling that if anyone was going to come out of Caltech and be one of the puppet masters, it would be someone like Steve.

pax \ Ctein
[ Please excuse any word-salad. MacSpeech in training! ]

At least ride your bike to the poolhall Mike!

Speaking of S. Reich http://www.linnrecords.com/recording-kuniko-plays-reich.aspx

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