Veep

May 8, 2014

The Point's Not Over Until It's Over!

Last night, one of my students, 12-year-old Matt, told me about an interesting point he had in our Tuesday night league. The opponent was attacking, and Matt had been forced off the table fishing. The opponent's smash hit the net and dropped down in front of Matt, seemingly unreturnable. Matt scooped the ball up almost off the floor and made a sidespin return - but the opponent was off to the side of the table, thinking the point was over, and so couldn't react. So Matt won the point, and went on to win his division in the league that night. (After just 14 months of play, his league rating is now almost 1700.)

This type of thing happens all the time. Over the years I've played many dozens of points where my opponent thought the point was over, and so wasn't ready when I'd make a last-minute lunging return. (Alas, it's happened to me a few times as well.) Players often way under-estimate how fast a player can cover the wide corners. (This is one reason why choppers often do well - opponents keep going to the "open" corners instead of attacking the vulnerable middle.) And in our practice games after our session was over, I had at least one point where I blocked a "winner" to Matt's wide forehand and stood up straight, only to be caught when he somehow ran it down and fished it back, forcing me into an awkward block.

When I coach, it also happens all the time - primarily because of my tendency to volley balls that are off the end to keep the rally going, or even to play balls after they hit the floor. My students are often caught off guard by this, though they soon learn to be ready no matter what. As I often say, "Just because the point is over doesn't mean the point is over."

So it's extremely important to expect every ball to come back until the point is actually over. This means no standing up straight in the middle of a point - stay down in your ready position. Desperation returns happen all the time, and they are usually weak returns that are easily put away - but they are often missed by the unready.

I think the most famous (infamous?) case of a player not realizing the ball was still in play was in the final of the New Jersey Open (or was it the Eastern Open?), circa 1978, between Mike Bush and Rutledge Barry (about age 15, battling with Eric Boggan for the #1 rank among USA juniors), with the score (predictably!) deuce in the fifth. (Games were to 21 back then, so it had been a marathon match.) I was on the sidelines watching when the following happened. Bush was lobbing, and after the lefty Rutledge creamed one, Bush did a lunging, desperation lob, extremely high but way off the end - in fact, I think it was still rising when it crossed Rutledge's side of the table. Rutledge turned his back on the table and yelled in celebration - he thought he had match point. What he didn't see, but what we saw from the stands, was the ball change directions as it neared a fan in the ceiling. The fan blew the ball straight backwards, so the ball landed on Rutledge's side of the table, and bounced back to Mike's, hitting his side before going off the end. So whose point was it?

The rules say that the rally shall be a let "…because the conditions of play are disturbed in a way which could affect the outcome of the rally." But the fan had been there at the start of the rally, and so wasn't a "disturbance." And so the umpire (after consulting with the referee) ruled that the ball was still in play, and so Mike's lob, despite its essentially 90 degree turn in mid-air, was a point-winning "ace"! Rutledge was not happy, especially as Mike won the next point and the championship.

U.S. Open Deadline is Saturday

This year's U.S. Open is in Grand Rapids, Michigan, June 30 - July 4. The deadline to enter without a $75 late fee is Saturday. "Postmarked after May 10, 2014 will be accepted with a $75 late fee. Entries postmarked after May 17, 2014 WILL NOT BE ACCEPTED." Here's more info:

I'll be there, as usual, mostly coaching, though I'm also playing in a few hardbat events. (I normally use sponge.) When I'm not coaching or playing I'll probably be hanging out by the Butterfly booth, so come by and say hello, and perhaps buy a few of my books!!! (I can sign them.)

ITTF Legends Tour

The first event of the ITTF Legends Tour was held last night, with Jan-Ove Waldner defeating Jean-Michel Saive in the final, 3-2. Here's video of the entire night (about three hours), showing all five matches. Here are pictures from the event. Here's the home page for the event (strangely, no results are given other than the final), and here's the Facebook page. Here are the results.

Final: Jan-Ove Waldner (SWE) d. Jean-Michel Saive (BEL), 3-2; SF: Waldner d. Jorgen Persson (SWE), 3-1; Saive d. Jiang Jialiang (CHN), 3-0; QF: Saive d. Jean-Philippe Gatien (FRA), 3-0; Persson d. Mikael Appelgren (SWE), 3-0; Waldner & Jiang byes.

Here's one interesting picture, showing Saive receiving serve. Note how far he is around his backhand corner? This is sort of a dying art, the all-out forehand receive of serve. These days players mostly favor backhand receive against short serves. Players like Saive (and often me many years ago) focused on returning essentially all serves with their forehand, even short ones, which they'd flip with the forehand, even if the serve was short to the backhand.

"I Wanted to Remind the World That I'm Number One"

Here's the article about why Xu Xin pointed to his player number (where his player number was #1) after winning against Germany's Patrick Franziska, with the two playing in the #3 spot (and so only playing one match, while the top two players would play two each if the team match went five).

Forlorn Superstar

Here's a picture of the Chinese Team reacting during the Men's Team Final at the Worlds. Note Zhang Jike (reigning World and Olympic Men's Singles Champion) on the far left - he's just lost to Germany's Dimitrij Ovtcharov. Here's an interview with Zhang (2:10) after the team match (through an interpreter).

ITTF Facts from the World Championships

A total of 178,527 points were played. Just thought you should know.

Why Restricting China is Bad for the Sport

Here's the article by Matt Hetherington. This is in regard to changes made by the ITTF discussed in this article and this ITTF Press Release, which I linked to on Monday.

$16,000 Butterfly St. Louis Open

Here are two more follow-up articles by Barbara Wei on the St. Louis Open held this past weekend. Other articles were linked to in my May 5 blog (Monday).

A Tribute to Lily Zhang

Here's the video (3:44), created by Jim Butler.

Michael Mezyan's Latest TT Artwork

Here it is. This could inspire a table tennis fantasy story I may write, involving black magic to create the perfect paddle, etc.

Table Tennis on Veep

I blogged about this on April 28, but didn't have pictures or video. Here's the video (15 sec), care of Table Tennis Nation. And one correction to my blog on this, where I said I didn't see any of the three top table tennis players who were brought in. That's Toby Kutler on the far right, a 2200 player from my club, though of course his table tennis skills weren't actually needed in the scene. But he does have a good look of distress as the VP's aide yells at them for hitting the VP with the ball! (Here's my blog from Oct. 10, 2013, where I wrote about our experiences on the set of Veep.)

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April 28, 2014

Tip of the Week

Develop the Fundamentals: Strokes & Footwork.

The Six-Inch Toss Rule

I had a question on the six-inch toss rule, so I decided to submit it to USATT's Stump the Ump, where umpire questions are answered by Paul Kovac, an international umpire and certified referee. (He's also a regular at my club, MDTTC, and referees the MDTTC tournaments.) The question was seemingly simple, but as you'll see, may not be as obvious as you'd think. Here's my question:  

Here’s a question that keeps coming up, and I’d like to see an online answer that we can refer to. When serving, does the ball have to go six inches up from the exact point where it leaves the hand, or does it actually require six inches of clearance between the hand and the ball? I thought I knew the answer to this, but when I asked six umpires/referees for their ruling at the Nationals, three said the first, three said the latter.

Here is the answer Paul gave, which is now published at Stump the Ump.

This should not be a topic for discussion because the rule is very clear about it:

2.6.2 The server shall then project the ball near vertically upwards, without imparting spin, so that it rises at least 16cm (6") after leaving the palm of the free hand and then falls without touching anything before being struck.

The important part is:

"...so that it rises at least 16cm (6") after leaving the palm...."

The first part of the service rule, namely, "2.6.1 Service shall start with the ball resting freely on the open palm of the server's stationary free hand" is also important because if the serve does not start with "ball resting freely on the open palm of the server's stationary free hand", it is virtually impossible to judge the toss.

Rule 2.6.2 means that after the toss, the separation of ball and player's palm must be at least 6" before the palm and ball get any closer. We see sometime that after the 6" toss the player's hand follows the ball and gets closer than 6" from the ball as the ball raises, and sometimes also when the ball falls. But as long as the 6" separation of the palm and the ball was satisfied, and the palm and hand is not between the ball and the net (not hiding the ball from receiver), the serve is legal.

Thanks, 
Paul

However, I don't think the answer is that clear, as shown by the 3-3 split by umpires/referees when I asked the question at the Nationals. Here's my response to Paul's answer:

Hi Paul,

Thanks for getting back to me. However, I don't think the ruling on this is that clear, based on the actual wording of the rules.

The rules say the ball must rise at least 6". Suppose a player serves so that the ball leaves his hand exactly 40 inches above the ground. If the ball then goes up six inches, it has risen six inches, from 40 inches to 46 inches, and it would seem to have fulfilled requirements of the rule, regardless of what the serving hand does. Nowhere does the rule state that there must be six inches clearance between the hand and the ball - that's a common sense interpretation, but I don't see how one can get that from the wording of the rules.

As noted, many umpires and players read the rule as it is written (and interpret it differently than what you wrote), i.e. the ball must rise six inches, and since it isn't indicated otherwise, they measure it from the point where it leaves the hand. Based on that, a player's serving hand could rise and stay with the ball, and still fulfill the requirements of the rules as they are worded as long as he doesn't use it to hide the ball, and as long as he quickly removes the serving arm and hand from the space between the ball and the net. If there is an interpretation that the ball must rise six inches relative to the hand - which would be difficult to justify, based on the wording of the rule - then that needs to be published somewhere so as to remove the confusion.

I'm CCing Roman and Wendell again as I'd like to see if they concur with your ruling, and why. This came up twice at the Nationals (I didn't make an issue of it), and as noted below, six umpires/referees I asked about it split down the middle on the ruling - so it's obviously not clear to everyone, even officials, and I guarantee most players aren't sure about this. Once the wording of a ruling on this is agreed on, I think this should be published in the Stump the Ump column, or somewhere, so it can be referred to. (Ideally, they'd change the wording of the serving rule to make this clear, but that probably won't happen.)

-Larry Hodges

So what do you think? Is there anything in the actual rules that state that there must be six inches of separation between the hand and the ball when serving? I don't see it. All I see is that the ball must rise six inches, and I don't see how that is affected by the location of the serving hand. I'll go by this interpretation even though I don't really agree with it. I haven't received a response yet from Roman Tinyszin (chair of the USATT Officials and Rules Advisory Committee) or Wendell Dillon (former chair).

Have a rules question? Feel free to ask me. If I can't answer it (impossible!!!), then we can submit it to Stump the Ump.

Veep

As I blogged about on Friday, the episode of Veep that would "feature" table tennis was on Sunday night. Alas, while there was some recreational table tennis, all the scenes with the three top players I'd brought in were cut. However, in most of the scenes taking place at the fake Clovis corporation - about half the episode - I'm often standing just behind the camera or off to the side, out of view, watching it as it is filmed. 

ITTF President Adham Sharara to Step Down as ITTF President

Here's the article, where he explains why he wants to deal with the "China" crisis, and will remain involved in the newly created position of ITTF Chairman.

Shonie Aki Scholarship Award

Here's the article and info for this annual $1250 scholarship.

Incredible Rally, Michael Maze vs. Zoran Primorac

Here's the video (52 sec, including slow motion replay). Maze is on far side (lefty). This'll wake you up before you move on!

WORLD TEAM CHAMPIONSHIPS

Here's the home page for the ZEN-NOH 2014 World Team Championships, April 28 - May 5, in Tokyo, where you can find results, articles, photos, and video. It starts today. Since Tokyo is thirteen hours ahead of us, all of the first day action should be complete already. (So 9AM east coast time is 10PM Tokyo time.) Here are more articles involving the Worlds.

USA at the Worlds

  • Men's Video Update #1 (1:37) by Jim Butler (before play began).
  • Women's Video Update #1 (43 sec) by Lily Zhang (before play began).
  • Day One Results (do search for "USA"): USA Men went 2-0, defeating Luxembourg 3-1, and Kazakhstan 3-2. USA Women were apparently in the middle of their first tie, and were listed as 1-1 with Hungary, so by the time you read this that'll probably be done.

Players at Worlds Not Happy With Cameras Next to Net

Here's the article.

Photos from Just Before the Worlds

Here are the photos - click on the photos to see more.  

Table Tennis Billboard at World Championships

Here's the picture.

My Passion for Sports and the State of "Flow"

Here's the new article by Dora Kurimay, sports psychologist and table tennis star.

Ma Long and Zhang Jike Serve

Here's a video (10:11) where they demonstrate and explain (in Chinese) their serves. Even if you can't understand the Chinese you can watch the serves themselves. About halfway through they start showing other players doing other shots.

New Coaching Articles at Table Tennis Master

The Downside of Being Fan Zhendong

Here's the article.

Basketball Star Goran Dragic Plays Table Tennis

Here's the video (3:27), where he talks about his table tennis and shows him playing.

Unique Ping-Pong Paddle

Now that's a unique paddle! I want one. Especially the swimming pool part. Artwork by Milan Mirkovic. 

Beetle Bailey on Friday

Here's the cartoon! So Beetle has learned to serve with heavy backspin?

Chicken Table Tennis Cartoon

Here's the cartoon! Now I'll never look at our own junior program the same way.

Table Tennis Epic

Here's a hilarious video (1:12), showing Michael Maze and Dimitrij Ovtcharov in an "epic" match . . . sort of.

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April 25, 2014

Fan Zhendong vs. Cho Eonrae

Here's a great video (14:32, with time between points removed) between China's Fan Zhendong (world #3) and South Korea's Cho Eonrae (world #20) in the 8ths of the Qatar Open on Feb. 18-23. Spoiler Alert! Cho wins deuce in the seventh, -12,10,7,7,-9,-8,10. Here is my analysis of the first five points. Fan is in red, Cho in black. Not all points are shown; for example, the second point shown is actually at 3-1. (FH = forehand, BH = backhand. Alas, the direct links to the start of the points make you go through the short ad at the start each time.)

POINT 1: Fan does reverse pendulum sidespin serve short to FH. Cho comes in with FH as if receiving down the line, freezing Fan (who has to cover for the down-the-line shot), and then drops it short the other way, to Fan's FH. Fan steps in, threatening to go very wide to Cho's FH, instead flips down the line to Cho's BH.  Since Fan is leading over table, Cho attacks very wide to Fan's BH. Fan has to move quickly, and does a safe backhand topspin to Cho's wide BH. Cho spins off bounce to Fan's wide BH. Both players are trying to avoid the other's FH, and since these aren't highly aggressive shots, they are going wide to the BH rather than the middle, where many attacks go. After his previous backhand loop, Fan is moving back to ready position and is caught slightly when Cho goes right back to the wide backhand. As Fan moves to do an awkward backhand loop, Cho steps around to counterloop with his FH, but Fan BH loops off. Point to Cho.

POINT 2: Cho does FH reverse pendulum serve to Fan's BH. Fan backhand banana flips, but his shot nicks the net and goes off. I can't read the spin from this angle (Cho's body is in the way), but while the obvious thought was the serve was backspin, I suspect it was no-spin from the angle of Fan's racket. His contact with the ball is almost directly behind it; if the ball was heavy backspin, he'd be going more around it with sidespin rather than go up against the backspin directly. (That's a secret of the banana flip.) Point to Cho.

POINT 3: Cho fakes a regular pendulum serve, but does another reverse pendulum serve. It's half-long to the FH, barely off the end, and Fan loops it rather weakly. But since Cho has to guard the wide FH angle, he's slow in stepping around, and so he takes the ball late and goes off the end. Point to Fan. I'm guessing Cho hasn't gotten his rhythm yet or he'd make that shot, even rushed.

POINT 4: Fan does a regular pendulum serve. The motion looks like he's going long to Cho's backhand - watch how Cho starts to step around. Instead, Fan serves short to Cho's FH, forcing Cho to change directions. See how off balanced he is as he receives? He manages to drop it short, but is still a bit off balance as he steps back, and so is slightly caught when Fan drops it back short. He does a weak backhand attack, which Fan easily backhand loops. Since Cho is leaning over the table with his backhand side a bit open, Fan goes to his wide backhand, forcing Cho to block. Fan now does a stronger backhand loop to Cho's middle, forcing a weaker block, and then Fan steps around and rips a FH to Cho's middle. The whole point was like a chess match, where a small advantage is gradually turned into a winning point. Point to Fan.

POINT 5: Here's where Fan apparently pulls a fast one. He does a pendulum serve, but it looks like he's hidden contact - but just barely. Here's an image just before the ball disappears behind his non-playing arm, and here's one just after, with the arm now hiding the ball. Can Cho see contact? Most likely contact is hidden, but becomes visible the split second afterwards. Here's one the split second after the arm gets out of the way, where you can see the ball against the racket. It happens so fast it's almost impossible to be sure, but it looks like he contacted it with a regular pendulum serve, heavy backspin, but hidden by the arm, and then, the split second after, as his arm moved out of the way, his racket moves slightly in the other direction as if doing a reverse pendulum serve with sidespin. That's what Cho likely saw, and so he backhands the ball right into the het. (This was the standard technique at the high levels before hidden serves became illegal - hide contact, but show the receiver a fake contact the split second afterwards to mislead them.) Point to Fan. 

Was this last serve legal? You decide. Here are the pertinent rules.

2.06.04: From the start of service until it is struck, the ball … shall not be hidden from the receiver by the server or his or her doubles partner or by anything they wear or carry. 

2.06.05: As soon as the ball has been projected, the server’s free arm and hand shall be removed from the space between the ball and the net. The space between the ball and the net is defined by the ball, the net and its indefinite upward extension. 

2.06.06: It is the responsibility of the player to serve so that the umpire or the assistant umpire can be satisfied that he or she complies with the requirements of the Laws, and either may decide that a service is incorrect. 

Veep

Back on October 10, 2013, I blogged about spending a day on the set of the HBO TV show Veep. Well, the episode, "Clovis," airs this Sunday, at 10:30 PM in my area (east coast). I was basically their table tennis advisor, and I brought in three top table tennis players who should appear in the episode: Khaleel Asgarali (2314), Qiming Chen (2221), and Toby Kutler (2154). See the blog entry for info on what we did. So you can recognize them, here's a picture of Khaleel Asgarali. Here's Qiming Chen (on right). And here's 14 seconds of Toby Kutler doing multiball training.

You won't see me in the episode, but there's a scene where the character Mike McLintock (played by Matt Walsh) discovers the snack bar at Clovis. You'll see him talking through a window with the Clovis employee who runs the snack bar, and who fixes him some sort of drink (I think a milk shake). While you can't see me, I'm sitting right behind the Clovis snack bar employee, on the left, hidden by the wall and enjoying the show. (They did this scene about a zillion times, with Matt playing a bit differently each time, so I'm curious which version they went with.)

Knee Problems - Again

Here we go again. Last night during a class I was teaching I demonstrated a forehand smash. I thought something felt funny in my right knee afterwards, but it wasn't until about ten minutes later that my knee started to act up again. And now I'm limping about, hoping I can coach. (I have a 90-minute session tonight, so it's not a busy night, but then the weekend is very busy.) This is not a good thing for an active coach. On the other hand, it's been a while since my knees/arm/shoulder/back acted up.

I've had problems with both knees. When it's my left, I can usually compensate better, but my right knee is my push-off leg for all my forehand shots, plus it's hard to move to the right when it's acting up. We'll see how it is when I coach tonight.

Chinese Table Tennis Association Sticks with Old Ball (for now)

Here's the article.

Zhang Jike Feels Pressure With His Responsibilities in Tokyo

Here's the article.

Team USA at the 2014 World Championships

Here's a video (3:06) honoring the U.S. National Team at the World Championships in Japan. That's me coaching Crystal at 0:54 and 0:56 - see big picture on right both times. (But just for the record, Jack Huang is her primary coach, though I often coach Crystal in tournaments when he's not around.)

USA Men's Team at the Worlds

Here's video (1:26) of the most intensively serious workout they've ever undergone, and some chitchat. And here they are relaxing and playing cards. Here they are on the subway returning to the hotel.

USA Table Tennis Champions of the Century, Part 1

Here's the video (6:38) by videomaster Jim Butler. This one covers Eric Boggan, Dan Seemiller, Jim Butler, Sean O'Neill, Hank Teekaveerakit, Attila Malek, and Lily Zhang.

How You Could Send Something High in the Atmosphere

Here's an article on the use of ping-pong balls to send things into the upper atmosphere for scientific experiments.

7000 Pingpong Balls Dropped for Legacy Week

Here's the article.

Office Prank - 100+ Ping Pong Balls

Here's the video (2:13)!

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October 14, 2013

Tip of the Week

Playing Choppers. This week I'm "cheating" - this is a previously published article that's listed in the Articles section here. However, I've had several requests for advice on playing choppers, and I realized that none of my 139 weekly tips since I started them in January, 2011, covered this. However, I did some rewriting of the section, so it's not exactly the same. Also, I plan on publishing a compilation of all these tips next year, and this will make them a bit more complete. (I was going to do a Tip on why it's often best to give the serve away at the start of a match, but I'll save that for next time.)

Veep

Last Thursday I blogged about my day on the set of the HBO comedy "Veep." I was only there on Wednesday - for 13 long hours. The episode featured table tennis, and I went in originally as one of the table tennis players - but they wanted only players in their 20's, and so I was relegated to being a possible extra as a janitor - but they didn't use me, alas, as even there they wanted people in their 20s. On Thursday they did the actual table tennis scene. I wasn't there, but Toby Kutler told me about it.

He and Khaleel Asgarali were the real table tennis players in the scene. (Qiming Chen was there the day before but wasn't there on Thursday.) Two actors who - falsely - claimed to be good table tennis players were also used. Toby said that he was originally told that he and Khaleel would be playing, and that he would accidentally smack a ball that would hit star Julie Dreyfus, that he'd get to speak a line "Sorry about that," or something like that), and that she and her aides would all get angry and start screaming at him and the other players, and tell them to leave. However, there was a last-minute directorial decision to have them play doubles, and so the two actors who said they could play were added, meaning the rallies were much weaker. One of the others than had the honor of hitting the ball that smacked Dreyfus, and there were no speaking lines from the real TT players. Also, the players didn't actually hit her; they used a ping-pong gun to shoot a ball at her instead.

The table tennis episode is Episode 3.3, the third one of season three, and will air in March or April of 2014. Toby, Khaleel, and Qiming will be seen in the episode not only as TT players but as workers on a computer and walking by, possibly in several scenes.

The Brains of Einstein and Chinese Table Tennis Players

Here's an article from yesterday's Washington Post (though it apparently appeared first in the LA Times) about Einstein's brain. It references a technique developed by a Chinese physicists for "measuring the thickness of the corpus callosum in Chinese table tennis players, whose sport requires remarkable feats of inter-hemispheric coordination."

China's Top-Down Take on Innovation

Here's an article from the Wall Street Journal that references table tennis as an example of where China is good at innovation, while explaining why, in general, it is not. "To understand why China has such a tough time producing world-class innovations, take a look at how the Chinese play games. Ping pong tables are everywhere in public spaces and open to all comers, from kids to agile retirees, producing a reservoir of talent that has made China a ping pong innovator and champion. By contrast, basketball courts in China are generally locked up. Entrance is controlled by the state—in this case, school officials—shrinking the talent pool and the chance for youngsters to hone their moves. The result: basketball mediocrity."

Nine-Year-Old's Trick Shot Compilation

Here's an article with a link to a video (1:27) of a nine-year-old's ping-pong ball trick shots. Pretty impressive for any age!

Bobby Riggs Commercial

Here's a video (38 sec) from the 1970s that advertises Hasbro's Power Tennis Game, and shows Bobby Riggs playing a version of table tennis in a commercial that spoofs his internationally televised "Battle of the Sexes" match against Billie Jean King. Here are some pictures of Riggs playing table tennis: photo1 (Reba Monness on left) photo2 (Mary McIllwain on left) photo3 photo4 (jockey Chris McCarron on left) photo5 (tennis player Billie Jean King on right)

Non-Table Tennis - Capclave

I spent Friday night, and about half of Saturday and Sunday at the Capclave Science Fiction Convention in Gaithersburg, MD, held five minutes away from the Maryland Table Tennis Center. I was on three panels, including two that I moderated, plus I did a reading. (I still managed to get a number of coaching hours over the weekend, but I was able to reschedule many of them.)

I moderated the infamous "Religion and Politics" panel, which can get rather heated, but we managed to keep it mostly low-key this time around - much of the discussion wasn't about actual religion or politics, but about famous religious or political novels and movies that influenced the world. This was a good fit for me, as many of my short stories and both of my novels (one coming Nov. 15, the other in a state of flux as I do a rewrite for a publisher) are political. I sat next to the famous James Morrow during the panel. It's the second time I've been on a panel at a convention with him.

I also moderated the panel on "Amazon - Good or Bad?" I had to great moments in this panel. At the start, after we introduced the panelists, I said, "I have some disturbing news. Some of us who really hate Amazon have gotten together and formed an Orange Crush Party." (I held up a can of Orange Crush that I'd just picked up from the con suite.) "We demand that Amazon be closed down immediately. Otherwise, we will defund and close down Capclave. There will be no more panels, the exhibits and dealer's room will be closed, and all parties are cancelled." At first people in the audience thought I was serious, but they figured it out and laughed at the end. I also did a stunt where, right there on stage, I bought a book from one of my four fellow panelists on my Kindle. I also explained my experiences with Amazon in selling my TT books. One surprise - I thought most of the people would think Amazon was bad, as they continued to use it, but the general consensus - with a few notable exceptions - was that Amazon was good.

I was also on the "1001 Uses for an Unsold Story" panel where we talked about the possibilities - rewriting it, reusing the central ideas of the story in another story, using it in a novel, or just saving it for the appropriate anthology that might someday come along. Or printing it out to line your parakeet cage.

I did a 25-minute reading on Sunday, where I read an excerpt from my upcoming novel, "The Giant Face in the Sky." I also had time to read my "cult classic" story, "The Bat Nerd," about a bat that thinks it's a superhero.

And I got to meet and shake hands with George R.R. Martin, author of the Game of Thrones novels, now an award-winning HBO series. Plus I attended a number of panels and readings, and spent much time in the dealer's room, where I ended up buying only two books somehow.

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October 10, 2013

Veep

I had a wild day on the set of Veep yesterday. And when I say "wild," I mean sitting around doing nothing other than watching for 12 hours. It was fascinating and incredibly boring. Yes, I got to spend lots of time practically standing next to Julia Dreyfus, Anna Chlumsky, Tony Hale, Gary Cole, Matt Walsh, and the rest of the cast and crew. But most of it was watching rehearsal after Rehearsal after REHEARSAL, and then watching take after Take after TAKE!!! And in between these rehearsals and takes? Lots of waiting around.

As I've blogged about before, Veep had an episode that would feature table tennis: Episode 3.3, which would be the third episode in season three, which will run sometime early in 2014. They had contacted me, looking for "high-level table tennis players in their 20s." I had helped bring in Khaleel Asgarali, Toby Kutler, and Qiming Chen. (Khaleel, rated 2391, used to be over 2400 and was on the Trinidad National Team; Toby is rated 2154 and used to be over 2200; Qiming, rated 2113, is the University of Maryland Champion and a graduating senior.)

I'm 53 and didn't quite fit the age profile, but they told me to come in anyway. I assumed I was part of the table tennis. However, at about 10PM on Tuesday night all the extras received a long email giving instructions on things such as what to wear, when and where to park and meet, etc. In the listings they had Khaleel, Toby, Qiming, and three others I'd never heard of listed as "Table Tennis Players." I was listed along with two others as "Clovis Custodial Staff." Huh?

I left my house at 5:30 AM and arrived at the parking garage at University of Maryland just before 6AM. I was there early because I didn't want to get stuck in traffic; we were supposed to be there by 7AM. They had a shuttle for the extras starting at 6:30 AM, which took us to the Physical Sciences Building, the site of the shooting, where I'd be from 7AM to well past 7PM. (I believe this was the same building I took computer science classes in when I was an undergraduate there many years ago, but it looked very different now.) They had turned the front of the building, the lobby, and the second floor into "Clovis Corporation." It was pretty extravagant; I wish I had pictures of the setting, but photos weren't allowed. A lot of the stuff involved recreational stuff, including large Lego tables, foosball, some sort of golfing area, and yes, two ping-pong tables.

The ping-pong tables each had a pair of cheap hardbat rackets. But rather than a ping-pong ball, they both had a Koosh ball! This was about 1.5 times the diameter of a ping-pong ball, and very dead. When it bounced on the table it made little noise, and that's why they wanted it. However, to me, it looked very awkward, as there's supposed to be sound when the ball hits the table, and it's supposed to bounce, not die like these balls did, plus it was way too big. With a little practice, you could rally with them, but you had to take the ball right off the bounce (since there was little bounce) and hit it pretty hard to get it over the net. I mentioned there were three people listed as table tennis players I'd never heard of; it turned out they were actors who had put "ping-pong" down as things they were good at. One of them didn't show. The other two were just advanced basement players. They spend much of their time practicing hitting the Koosh ball back and forth.

There was also a large Snack Corner, which was where I'd spend the next twelve hours. Not to eat, but there was a sitting area behind it, and that's where many of the extras sat while waiting for their big moment. When the cameras were pointing the other way (which fortunately was most of the time) we were able to gather behind them and watch the shooting.

When I arrived, I was given a Clovis Corporation t-shirt to wear - white with a large colorful "C" on the front. I was also given a blue apron I was to wear. So much for my dreams of playing table tennis on Veep!

The next twelve hours gradually went from great interest to great boredom. It became obvious the ones doing the casting weren't sure what the ones doing the directing were interested in, and they were interested in people in their 20s, to fit the profile of techies. (I think they modeled "Clovis Corporation" on Google.)  The two others listed as "custodial" were both in their 60s; out of the 50+ extras, we were the only three not to be used. We just sat around all day. There was a 30-minute lunch break where they catered an extravagant feast - extremely well-seasoned chicken (I think Cajun style), what looked like prime rib, fish, all-you-can-eat salad, lots of vegetables, lots of desserts. I was surprised that everyone ate the same food - Julia Dreyfus and the rest of the stars, the directors, and the rest of the actors were right there with the extras. Then it was back to work - or in my case, to sitting around.

What were they actually filming? Basically, Julia (Vice President of the U.S.) and her staff were visiting some high-tech Google-like corporation. There was lots of playful banter between the cast members; Julia mistook some of the recreational activities as child care and launched into a campaign-type speech that got interupted; her assistant, played by Tony Hale, kept whispering things into her ear, often nearly word-for-word what she was being told, and she'd react sarcastically. She was shown around, then there was a short board-type meeting, then they met the big executive with the ping-pong going on in the background. And that got us to 7PM.

During one long break Khaleel and I did an impromptu exhibition with a real ping-pong ball. It got lots of "Oohs!" and "Aahs!", but the only ones that saw it were the extras and lower-level technicians. The main cast and crew were on the other side of the set and I don't think noticed. (It was a big set!)

During the first 2.5 hours they did the opening scene to their arriving at Clovis over and Over and OVER!!! It took that entire time to do what I timed to be a 90-second scene. Then they did the next scene, also about the same length, and it took hours. By the end of the day, with 11.5 hours on set, my guess is they got about five minutes of filming done. But that comes to 30 minutes in five days, and most episodes are about 23 minutes, so perhaps they are ahead of schedule.

While I wasn't getting used, they used Khaleel, Toby, and Qiming almost nonstop - but as regular Clovis employees! For example, in the opening scene, a Clovis director is showing the main cast around, and most of the scene is around two tables with five Clovis employees working at computers - and three of them were Khaleel, Toby, and Qiming. (This was done about 30 times over 2.5 hours.) Later there was a scene where they are meeting some Clovis executive, and all three of them were told to walk by in the background. It was kind of funny watching one of the assistant directors time when to send them. Qiming walked alone; they sent Toby and Khaleel together. They did this about 20 times, so they got lots of exercise.

During the scene where they are meeting the Clovis executive two of the actors who were listed as having "table tennis skills" were playing in the background. (It was a LOT of playing since they did the scene over and Over and OVER.) The irony is that this was the scene were Khaleel, Toby, and Qiming were walking by in the background, right past the table. So while they had the amateurs playing ping-pong, the real players walked by. However, we were told that they'd be playing some tomorrow. I was also told how the table tennis scene will culminate - but I think I'm sworn to secrecy. Let's just say that Julia will get involved, and it won't end well for her. (No, it's not something as simple as her getting beaten by a top player! If you ask me in person, I may be able to tell you what happens to her. Remember, this is a comedy.)

At the end of the day the extras had lots of paperwork to do, and then lots of waiting in line (almost an hour for me) to get our forms validated so they can mail us our checks. The normal rate for extras is $75 for nine hours work (so $8.33/hour), and 1.5 times that rate after nine hours (so $12.50/hour) Because we were listed as having "special skills," Qiming, Toby, and Khaleel all got double pay (so $16.66/hour), and for the 2.5 hours past nine hours, triple pay ($25/hour). I wasn't listed for that, but after I argued my case, and pointed out that I'd help bring in the three real players, they put me down as having a "special skill," even though I wasn't going to use it in the show except as an informal advisor. Then I drove home, returning around 8:30 PM - 15 hours after I'd left.

I was invited to come back today, but decided against it. First, I dreaded spending another 15 hours on this, most of it sitting around. Once you've hobnobbed with Julia and the others for a day it gets kind of old. Second, I've got lots and lots of things I need to work on, both table tennis and various writing projects. And third, I was EXHAUSTED. Yes, spend 15 hours like this and you'd be tired too.

I'll check with the three on what happened today and report back. Meanwhile, set your calendars for sometime in 2014 to watch the exciting table tennis action on Veep!

2013-2014 NCTTA League

Here's USATT Board Member Kagin Lee's blog about the upcoming NCTTA season.

Fundamentals of a Close to Table Game

Here's the article from Table Tennis Master.

Tips for Playing Against Antispin

Here's the article from Table Tennis Master.

Five Peculiarities to Become a Great TT Player (Revisited)

On Tuesday I linked to this somewhat tongue in cheek video. Here's a blog about it from Expert Table Tennis.

MIT Working on Robot Table Tennis Algorithm

Here's the article and links from Table Tennis Nation. Our Table Tennis Masters are in development, and soon even the Chinese National Team will have to bow before our Robot Ping-Pong Warlords!

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October 9, 2013

Off to Veep

I'm off to the Veep taping this morning, leaving at 5:15 AM. I'll be there all day (and perhaps partially into the night) today and tomorrow. I'll say hello to Julia Dreyfus for you! I'll ask if I'm allowed to post anything about the taping, but I'm probably going to be sworn to secrecy. Or perhaps I'll come up with some wild, imaginary story about it and see if anyone believes me. (Julia, the Vice President, is hijacked by lizard-like ping-pong playing alien cyborgs! I play the lizard-like ping-pong playing alien cyborg leader!)

Don't Think About Form When Playing Matches

Here's a Guest Posting by Des Preston that I found interesting - and I agree with it. It comes at a timely time since (as noted above) I'm leaving at 6AM for the Veep posting.

I love the tips you give to your readers and I'd like to share one that I often remind myself of. A lot of intermediate-advanced players 1800+ spend too much time thinking of their own technique/form during matches. At the 1800+ level, unless you are purposely trying to fit a certain shot into your game, constantly reminding yourself of your own technique can be a hindrance.

To help me pay more attention to my opponent and less time watching myself I switch the wording around in my head. If I miss a shot or make a weak return, instead of saying, "Open your paddle more" or, "C'mon swing like this!", I think to myself, "Ok his serve has more backspin on it than I thought," or "His blocks are mostly dead." This way I'm thinking more about their shots, and letting my own subconscious figure out how to handle it. 

At a lower level this may be difficult, but once a player has all the shots they need in their arsenal, this might be a better way to think. It's less taxing on the player's mindset as well. I feel like I'm not blaming myself, I'm just pointing out that the other player did something I wasn't expecting.

Three Secret Steps to Supercharge Your Footwork

Here are the articles from Table Tennis Master: Part 1 and Part 2.

Houston Rockets Renovated Locker Room Features Ping Pong

Here's the article. "The Houston Rockets recently spent $7 million upgrading their locker room as they enter the beginning of the James Harden-Dwight Howard era and it seems like table tennis playing General Manager Daryl Morey had at least a little bit of an influence since the locker room features table tennis."

The Funny Table Tennis

Here's a video (4:31) with a compilation of hilarious and spectacular play, much of it exhibition, and set to music. It's from 2010, but I don't think I'd ever seen or posted it.

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