2013 Capclave

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.)


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 11, 2013

Blog Featured on USATT Page

My blog on Thursday morning (on my day on set with "Veep") is featured on the USA Table Tennis home page. Page down and the picture (as of this writing) is on the left. (Last night it was on the right.) I'm sitting next to Derek Nie, the 2012 U.S. Open Under 12 Boys' Champion (currently rated a monstrous 2297). As noted in past blogs, they also are featuring pictures of Derek and I in the numerous Tips of the Week I did for USATT a decade ago in their Tip of the Day feature.

Coaching the Backhand

One of the things I've improved in my coaching is how I coach the backhand. As I've blogged about a number of times, the average backhand these days has more topspin than backhands from the past. It's evolved this way as an interaction between better sponge surfaces, which leads to better topspin technique, and  better technique, which leads to players going to more advanced sponges. These days at the higher levels nearly every backhand is essentially a backhand loop, usually done right up at the table.

But what really stands out is how this has trickled down to the intermediate level. During the speed gluing era (roughly 1980s to early 2000s) most players didn't glue except at the relatively higher levels. It was a lot of hassle, and the conventional wisdom at the time was that you had to reach a pretty high level before you could control a glued-up sponge. These days, with ease of buying a sheet of super sponge, players are using it at lower and lower levels, despite the high prices. With these super sponges it's easy to topspin the backhand (as well as the forehand), and so players do it sooner in their development. This shows that players can do it earlier in their development than was thought before, and so more and more often they are taught to do so. 

When I coach beginners I always mention to them that my backhand tends toward the flat side. (Sometimes when coaching I go for a bit more topspin for the student's sake, but it's not natural for me.) Some students have copied this, and so began to develop too-flat backhands in an age of topspin. So now I really stress putting topspin on these backhands. 

It's showing up in my students. I have several junior players who topspin away with their backhands even though they are still in the 1200 range in level. When I started out not many 1200 players could do this! A few days ago I was silently amazed as one of my students, who was much stronger on the forehand, was topspinning away on the backhand in backhand-to-backhand rallies, and he had no idea how impressive I found this. He (Matt) still needs a lot of work to control this consistently in a match situation, but he's well on his way to developing better backhand technique than I ever had. 

There's still debate on when to start to really topspin the backhand. Should you teach a "regular" backhand until the player is something like 1800 level, or have them topspin earlier? I have an 8-year-old student, about 1400 level already, who likes to back up and topspin everything, often from down at his level, contacting the ball below table level. He basically soft loops or fishes all his backhands AND forehands, except when he's lobbing, which is often.

Returning Serves

Here are two articles on this from Table Tennis Master.

Table Tennis Coaching Gifs

Here are some great gifs of top table tennis players you should study. I especially thought the third one was great in demonstrating how to do the reverse pendulum serve.  

Milwaukee Table Tennis Fundraiser

Here's the article. They will pit amateurs against pros (with creative handicaps) to raise money for Pathfinders Milwaukee, which provides shelter, counseling, education and other support to homeless and at-risk youth. Event takes place Oct. 17 at The Tent at Pier Wisconsin.

Table Tennis: The Sport That Makes You Use Your Brain the Most

Here's the article from Uberpong. I especially like the Albert Einstein Table Tennis graphic. Someone should turn that into a shirt. (Hello, Uberpong?)

Mouth Juggling Anyone?

Here it is, on the David Letterman Show under "Stupid Human Tricks."

Table Tennis Fail

Here's a video (3:27) of top players messing up. Study this one really hard, copy what you see, and play my students!

Non-Table Tennis - the Capclave Science Fiction Convention

This weekend I'll be commuting back and forth between coaching at MDTTC and the Capclave SF Convention, held about five minutes away in Gaithersburg, MD. (As some of you know, besides table tennis coaching and writing I'm also a science fiction & fantasy writer.) I'm on three panels, two of which I'm moderating. I'm also doing a reading. Below is my schedule. Here's my Capclave Bio. If you are in the area, come join us!

Friday 4:00-4:55 pm, Salons CDE
God Emperor of Capclave - The Politics and Religion Panel
Panelists: Brenda W. Clough, John G. Hemry, Larry Hodges (M), James Morrow, Brian Shaw
Verboten at the dinner table, but not here. How do authors' political perspectives and religion influence their writing? And what happens when an author's politics/religion starts influencing the real world (cue Ayn Rand)

Friday 9:00-9:55 pm, Rockville/Potomac Room
Amazon, Hero or Villain?
Panelists: Marilyn "Mattie" Brahen, Larry Hodges (M), John Edward Lawson, Kathryn Morrow
Debate: Amazon is good for its low prices, Kindle, and ease of shopping. Amazon is evil for killing off bookstores, taking more and more profit/control from writers/publishers, and for being so big

Saturday 12:00-12:55 pm, Rockville/Potomac Room
1001 Uses for an Unpublished Story
Panelists: Laura Anne Gilman, Larry Hodges, Victoria Janssen (M), Craig Alan Loewen, Alan Smale
Sometimes they sell,sometimes they don't, what do you do with your unsold stories? Do you ever write anything you know can't be sold? Do you mine the novel in your trunk?

Sunday 3:00-3:25 pm, Frederick Room
I'll be reading an excerpt from my upcoming novel, "The Giant Face in the Sky," a humorous fantasy that parodies the U.S.-Soviet Space race of the 1960s, but with sorcerers instead of astronauts. If there's time, I'll also read my "cult classic" short-short story, "The Bat Nerd," about a bat that thinks it's a superhero called Manbat.

Send us your own coaching news!

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