Tuesday, March 31, 2009

How to Run Drills

A Short Aside
In the grand scheme of things, I plan to write a reference for all my Ultimate knowledge/opinions. The problem with "now" vs "the grand scheme" is just a matter of it's hard to know where to start. So I'm not actually starting it. I just had some clear ideas that I felt I needed to write down so here they are. Also: these may apply to other sports as well, but Ultimate is simply what I'm most familiar with.
Most people overlook the value of giving adequate time to organize and run a drill properly. Sometimes it's because time is limited, or your team has a short attention span, or it's cold and you really can't focus. But rambling through a description, and just letting the team try their best is no more effective at teaching skills then telling your players to run laps.
For a drill to be effective, the players must know what to do, when to do it, and most importantly, why they're doing it.
What They're Doing
Experienced teams skip this step, largely because they're familiar with the more common drills, and can simply call them out by name. However, even experienced teams would benefit from going over drill details from time to time because there are so many things that happen at once, it's easy to forget the smaller details.
Each drill has 2 phases, which for brevity I'll call an "active" phase and a "reset" phase. The active phase is when players are actively executing part of the drill; they're running or throwing or jumping or whathaveyou. The reset phase is what the player falls into after they've finished the active phase; It's whatever extra action needs to occur before the player can enter the active phase again. This may involve just running back to the same spot, rotating to a different position, or bringing a disc back to a thrower. This is the phase most commonly overlooked when trying to just describe a drill quickly.
While describing the motion during the active phase effectively is really a matter of style and personal preference, I've found a few types of descriptions tend to work well. A miniature representation of the drill -- either with a whiteboard or moving upturned discs on the ground -- gives the players an overview of what the whole drill should look like. Additionally, having a few veteran players who have done the drill before act it out at full speed is a nice transition from the slow, miniature model to the real world. However, jumping straight from verbal description to having players act it out is somewhat less effective, as players can't see everything that's happening at once.
When To Do It
Most drills rely on a kind of flow. A goes over there, catches a disc, turns, and expects to be able to throw to player B who is cutting towards A. If B is there early, A will have to make a different throw; too late and A is just stuck waiting. In this case, players A and B both have a clear understanding of what they should be doing, they just don't know when to do it in order to keep the flow of the drill constant.
This sort of detail is most commonly left out of the drill's description, and its value is usually overlooked. Giving players a good sense of *when* they should be where is just as crucial as where they should be going. That way, the motion of the drill is kept smooth, and players don't need to keep adjusting their throws to the timing of other cuts.
With enough well-timed cuts, the team should be able to develop spatial chemistry: knowing where someone is on the field without even having to look. This leads to more confident players, more reliable throws, and generally faster offensive play. All because nobody's stuck with the disc, waiting for their man to cut.
Why They're Doing It
The next big issue that coaches overlook when describing how to run a drill is to explain why this is a good drill to run. The reason needs to mean something to the players performing the drill, so not giving a reason means they're simply doing it because that's what the coach said. Such a reason gives the players little more value from the drill than if they had simply run in circles for that period of time.
Most drills have in-game analogues. They may represent ideal in-game situations that never actually happen, but just making that connection for the player will give them a better chance of doing the well-practiced option learned from the drill in game. This drill teaches you how to hit a timed in-cut on the open side. This teaches you how to break the mark. Even skills-focused drills should be justified; this drill will make you faster, help you throw while you're tired, improve your low-release throws, defend against someone taller than you, etc.
Giving the player a context in which they can see a drill in real game will not only improve the drill's effectiveness, it'll also make the player focus on the skill he's supposed to be learning from the drill at hand. Otherwise, a lot of the player's effort will be lost by simply running in circles.
Perfection's in the Details
The beauty of all this is that each drill has a wealth of details that tend to be overlooked. Taking the time to focus on the details like proper motion, timing, and motivation gives the players a very rigid, very high bar that they should try to meet. Additionally, this gives even seasoned players the ability to run these drills time and time again, always trying to improve to hit these key details every single time. Without the wealth of detail, a team could run the drill poorly or even adequately and not have it occur to them what (or even if) they're doing something wrong.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Dell Inspiron Mini 9

I ordered myself a netbook last week, and it finally came on Saturday. A couple of folks have been asking me about my experiences with it, so I figured I'd provide a short review for those looking at buying themselves a netbook.

I got a Dell Inspiron Mini 9 because I found it on sale -- $300 for Ubuntu with an 8Gb solid state hard drive, 1Gb RAM, Bluetooth, and 1.3Mp camera. This makes it by far the cheapest computer I've ever bought, but also the most I've ever paid for hard disk space. But I digress.

Before I go on...
Generally, I am of the opinion that Dells are crap machines. My roommate had a Dell in college and the only advantage his had over my ThinkPad T41 (and then over my MacBook Pro) was that he would get a higher score than me on flash-based games because the game would have to slow down for him to play it. Which is why he refused for the longest time to upgrade his laptop, even when the thing roared like a jet engine because after 5 minutes of usage it had to hit the fans into high gear to stop itself from melting.

So, in my mind, Dell is a synonym for a crap computer with poor heat & noise management and crappy plastic construction.

But, for $300, I wasn't expecting a MacBook Air, so I was willing to give it a shot.

First Impressions

Despite my predisposition against the brand, I was actually quite pleased with the machine. It feels pretty well built and is amazingly silent. It's quieter than my MacBook Pro, and it's the sort of difference that can only be heard when I put my ear right up to the fan. Very impressive.

In a few of my marathon sessions of using the device, the bottom did become a bit warm. However, it never got so hot as to be really uncomfortable to have in your lap, like any of the other laptops I've played with. So all and all, I felt good using it.

Battery Life
The battery lasted a good while, too. I got about 4 hours of usage out of the device when starting from a full charge. During that time, I had roughly 3 programs open: Firefox, Pidgin, and Adobe Reader. I also toyed with some of the built-in programs, like the cheap linux games & camera stuff. Speaking of which...

Built-in Software
A lot of the software that came on the device was generally what you'd find with any Linux distro -- some Gnome-based games, a Minesweeper clone, a typing tutor, OpenOffice, etc. A lot of the prepopulated web links were to Dell or Yahoo, so I'm sure they've got some deal going on there.

There's also a program called the Dell launcher, which feels like a less polished version of Apple's Stacks. If you're OK with not seeing the desktop, this is a surprisingly easy and intuitive way to launch your programs. As you can see, one of the first things I did was add Emacs to mine.

You'll also notice that the topbar is partially offscreen. This is because I told it to auto-hide so I could use as much of the 9-inch screen as possible. I also added a firefox plugin to remove the "File".

Keyboard Quirks
For the most part, the keyboard is fine. Yes, it's a bit smaller than a full keyboard, but I was expecting that for a tiny netbook. After typing on it for a bit, you don't really notice how much smaller the keyboard is.

With one tiny exception.

Apparently, the engineers at Dell decided that us touch-type folks didn't ever really use concatenations or quotations when we were trying to type on the go, so they took the single- and double-quote key and moved it below the "." key. At first this was a bit annoying but it's gotten the part where it's actually pissing me off quite a bit. There's no sense in me trying to fight years of muscle-memory just for this one keyboard, and the result is that any IM conversation where I try to use "don't" or "I've" results in me accidentally sending the message mid-word. And I've done this a lot.

I've given up trying to correct this error, so if you're chatting with me and you see this happening, you'll know what computer I'm on.

(Also, the "-" or "_" key is now moved to just right of "p", which is a problem I've run into a few times in IM conversations, but it's nowhere as bad as the damn apostrophe thing)

In lieu of doing official, statistics-like testing, here are a few tidbits I've gotten from just using it or maybe timing it with a stop watch:

  • Startup takes just over 30s from a cold start.
  • Startup takes about 5s when resuming from a suspended state. 
  • Hulu videos play fine when windowed at standard resolution. Bumping them up to high resolution or expanding full screen results in dropped frames.
  • Camera (with "Cheese", a Photo Booth knock-off) takes higher-resolution pictures than the camera on my MacBook Pro, but the center of the picture is a bit blurry. (see below)
  • Built-in speakers are pretty loud-- as loud or louder than my MacBook Pro.
(Left: Photo Booth picture. Right: Cheese picture. Both images were taken at the same time.)

Minor Quirks
There were a few things that struck me as odd or annoying. 
  • If you don't interact with the computer for a few minutes, it forgets that you set the brightness on the display, and decides to crank it up. Which results in me cranking the brightness down time and time again.
  • "Cheese" can use the built-in camera to take video, but it records in .ogg format. This in itself isn't a problem, except that the Totem Media player doesn't play that file type. I imagine this will go away when I install VLC.
  • Scrolling can be a bit laggy when you use the sides of the trackpad for vertical or horizontal scrolling. It's been hit or miss for me with being very responsive, and "Oh crap its still scrolling nooooo"
Final Verdict
In sort, I'd recommend the Inspiron Mini 9, but definitely as a secondary machine. It's got pretty decent power & battery life for a portable computer, and I've enjoyed toying with it for a weekend. 
It also makes my 15" screen feel insanely large for a laptop after getting accustomed to 9". :)

PS: My website renders perfectly on Firefox/Ubuntu despite no prior testing. This is why standards are awesome.