The Adventures of FastMikie
in search of Truth and Beauty in the art of pocket billiards.
Sunday, January 27, 2008
Recent storms are passing by the front window here at my seaside Fortress of Solitude.
It reminded me of my days flying an open cockpit biplane through the Alps. (see story)
It's one of those great times to sit back, relax, and watch the clouds.
I am convinced that time spent watching clouds is added back to your life on earth. That must be why there are sunny days, to keep us from living forever.
Cloudy days are great for thinking. Today I got to thinking about Practice.
Sometimes, when I have a bit of free time, I'll go to the table and run the first rack, easily. And then it might take me 4 or 5 innings to get through the second rack.
I'm thinking that the first rack benefits from greater focus and concentration, and that after demonstrating perfection, my attention wanes.
In the second rack, I make mistakes that I wouldn't make in a competition. I'll take on shots that are interesting but low percentage.
I'm playing, not practicing.
Making the shot is no longer the priority. It becomes more of a curiosity thing: ("I wonder if I can...")
This sort of activity is Fun, but sub-optimal as a way to improve my game.
Naturally, this leads me to want to discover/design the Optimal Practice Routine.
Recent posts have mentioned the Billiard Practice Assistant job opportunity, and described the general flow of a Focused Practice Session (with assistant).
What needs clarification is the selection of the drills and the structure of how they progress during the session.
For example, the session might begin with cue ball only, warm up stroke routines, such as lag shots and other speed controls, kicks, english, etc. Next might come specific drills, and although I have not selected them yet, I'm thinking that most drills in the known billiard universe are not designed to take advantage of a Billiards Practice Assistant. So I'll probably be doing some inventing in this area.
At the very end of the practice session, I'm thinking there might be a set up table which would have a wide variety of shots, stop, draw, follow, english, fast/slow, etc. and flow from one to the other in rotation (possibly like the Honduran game of pool).
Of course detailed records would be kept, including video.
I'm envisioning almost a Standardized Practice Routine so that one student's routine could be compared to another's, rated and ranked, and even critiqued by an instructor who could watch the video.
Such a Standardized Practice Routine would be a more consistent method for determining the skill level of a student than competitions in 8 or 9 ball which have such elements of luck and environmental variables.
I'm heading into unknown territory. Should be interesting.
Further development of the Practice Session, with Assistant.
The Practice Session is a highly focused, choreographed, event.
What follows is a general description, but this will be much more clarified as actual sessions provide feedback for improvement.
Because the session will be recorded (in High Definition video) the entire process proceeds in Silence, except where noted, IN RED.
The Practice Session
The Student and the Assistant begin the Practice Session with a greeting in the appropriate manner, without speaking, a slight bow with the hands folded at the forehead, in the way of the yoga greeting "Namaste'" except in this case the spoken word is assumed.
The Assistant then moves to his/her private area to prepare for the session. Changes into all black clothing, removes jewelry, washes hands, and exits the private area.
The Assistant moves to the pool table area, turns on the overhead table lights, and proceeds to brush the cloth in the approved manner, while the billiard balls are run through the BallStar 2000 ball cleaning machine. Next, the assistant prepares the logbooks, and the practice materials, including the list of drills to be performed in this session.
The Assistant proceeds with video camera preparation. Set up the tripod, mount the camera, turn it on, aim, focus, make sure all the settings are proper
The Student, after greeting the Assistant, moves to the seating area opens his case, removes the playing cue handle (butt), moves to the head of the table, and starts the Pre-Session Stretching exercise. This is a slightly modified version of the yoga sun salutation, and in this case is done with both hands holding the cue butt.
During the stretching exercise, the Student listens to a recording (Personalized Practice Session Preparation Audio) via earphones attached to iPod worn in the pocket.
After stretching exercises, the Student moves back to the seating area, assembles the playing cue, takes a seat, and waits for the assistant to finish.
When the Assistant is ready to proceed, The Student moves to the table, the Assistant sets up the drill which the Student then performs.
Each drill is video recorded. The camera is started and stopped for each drill so that clips are short and easy to find for later processing.
The result of each drill is also written in the logbook. Each session starts with a new page, and this page headed up with the date/time and name of Student and Assistant. New personal best records are noted at the moment by the Assistant, and circled in the logbook.
The session continues until the drills are done, about 2 to 3 hours, at the most, The Assistant then executes the Table Cleaning routine, retrieves personal effects, and exits.
The Student then spends some time in private reflection, and makes summary notes in the logbook, turns out the table lights, and exits.
I'm lazy. I avoid work whenever possible. That's why my practice routine suffers.
And even when I do get to the table, I am not at all disciplined. Most of the time I'll just "pile rocks", with no real focus, and no time commitment, no record keeping, and therefore no way of knowing if my practice is doing me any good. So why bother?
That kind of sub-optimal activity (process) will almost certainly produce sub-optimal results. Well, I need to do better than that. And that's one of the reasons for the Billiard Practice Assistant.
It is intended that having such an assistant will help in several ways:
1. Time commitment and schedule. If I hire someone to show up at a certain time, and to put me through a series of drills, then it is CERTAIN that I will practice more hours.
2. Quality of practice will improve. The assistant will keep records, so I will have something to shoot for, some specific goal for each drill. This is CERTAIN to improve my skills.
3. Muscle memory will be improved because more balls will be hit. Allen Hopkins says that you need to hit 2 million balls to achieve championship level skill. So, the more balls I can hit per hour of practice, the faster I can win the US Amateur championship.
It's all about numbers. Time spent, balls hit, records kept. And persistence.
I watched the Mike Sigel training DVD (Mike Sigel's Perfect Pool Disk #1) which is available free online at the IPT site. It's unfortunate that you have to endure the drivel that goes on between Mike The Mouth and his criminal sidekick Kevin Trudeau before you get to the good stuff you expect from a legend such as Sigel.
This DVD is very basic, but it teaches some drills that are excellent.
Shot some pool yesterday with Mike R. and won both sets: 9 ball 7-5, and 8 ball 7-6. Mike's game has improved a lot since we last played. He's taking more time, walking around the table, and has an improved pre-shot routine.
I recorded the entire session on video, but since nothing extraordinary happened, I won't be using any of the recordings.
This was my first competition in at least a month. I did not play particularly well, probably because I have not been practicing.
Further camera experiments turned the lens toward a recent project that has come to a most excellent development. I have been putting the finishing touches on my new Global Control Center for FastMikie InterGalactic Enterprises.
The blog you read comes to you from this chair, this computer. Just a couple of feet away from the pool table. FastMikie's Fun House has it all, except space. That's at a real premium. Every inch must do double duty, at least.
(Click here for the video) best viewed full screen When I put this little corner together, I challenged myself to put together a very small collection of books, the ones which have had the greatest effect on me.
The biographies (books) shown are: Musashi Siddhartha Lindbergh Einstein Enzo Ferrari Rockefeller Law of Success, by Napoleon Hill
The music is Thus Spake Zarathustra, which played prominently in the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey. That movie is also the source for the tongue-in-cheek intro to this blog "Everything is going extremely well" which the infallible computer HAL-9000 speaks just prior to going bonkers. Don't ever trust a computer. I have spent almost a half a century with computers, so I have learned to make allowances for their eventual failures.
The bookcases are from Levenger.com. I'm a big fan of their "tools for serious readers".
The computer is a MacBookPro. The monitor is a Dell 30". Wireless Mac keyboard. Wireless MX Revolution mouse by Logitech. Water by Fiji.
This just came in, from a curiously curious reader with the screen name "Kathleen": "have you ever slept on your pool table or eaten jed clampet style around it? enquiring mind wants to know." Let's take the easy one: No eating near, and definitely not ON the table. No way. Period.
Now about sleeping on the table? First, that's just weird. And second... after I got thinking about it, it wasn't so weird any more, but I figured I would rather sleep under it. I can not imagine a harder sleeping surface than a pool table. Count me out.
That got me wondering what Other uses could be found for a pool table and then I remembered this neat photo:
(I am not above using repetition, for the fun of it.)
Insert here a long pause, while I search for the courage to go on. I guess this had to come out sooner or later.
Meet Susie's feet.
It was summer, 2007, and it was her last night on this continent. In the morning she would be on the way to freakin' Samoa. You can't go farther away than Samoa.
Great friend, Susie. Her feet were looking fine that night. (I am fond of the forms of female feet and footwear.) (aka "foot fetish" in other zip codes)
Imagine: a pool addict with a foot fetish. It's sad.
The red of her newly pedicured toe nail polish would go great with the tournament green Simonis 860 on my Gold Crown IV...
Another Kodak moment!
So now I'm standing on the pool table, shooting down at Susie's feet, thinking I am a sick and disgusting pervert. But not really, because it's legal, isn't it? Am I talking too much here?
And then I think we're gonna die, the floor will not hold all this weight.
It's madness... Too much information? Or not enough? You be the judge. That's what the "Comment" feature is for...
Ok, back to Kathleen's question. Next, purely in the spirit of research, I did climb up on the table, and lay down on it, and, as expected, I did not find it sleep-able. As I think back on that experience, I didn't spend much time trying to get used to it, didn't even use the "cushions" to find comfort, I just wanted to get offa there.
However, a curious thing did occur when I was getting on and off the table, right at the point where one leg is up on the table and one foot on the floor. In that stance/resting position, almost a gravity free zone, I noticed I had a perfect view of a cloudless night sky, a moonlit Pacific ocean, with a large ocean liner on the horizon.
Only in that position were all other light-pollution sources blocked out and only in that position was the scene perfectly framed.
So, thank you Kathleen for your enquiry. Were it not for your strange curiosity, I would not have enjoyed that view.
As for the alternate uses for a pool table? Not for eating. Not for sleeping. But it's a great backdrop for some pretty feet, which right now are playing on a sandy Samoan beach.
I feel certain we have not explored all of the potential uses for a pool table...
But for now, and for me, it's back to the practice table.
It was just over 4 years ago that I got serious about pool. I let a lot of other things go, and focused on pool. It seems I've competed a lot, and practiced a lot less than I should. I'm lazy, but that's another story.
This is about not doing pool. So then what do you do?
Well, in the last 3 months that I have not been competing, I have discovered all kinds of other ways to pass the time of day.
One of the most rewarding of all these, is my home. I really enjoy working on my home, making it a better place to live. And I really enjoy spending time here. Sometimes I even hit a few racks. But it's not about the pool, it's about home. Even though the pool table takes up half the space of this little condo, the pool table is not the only reason to be here.
I call my home "Mikie's Fun House" because I want to enjoy every minute I'm here. And, because I enjoy spending time here, I spend a lot of time here. It makes it easy being a hermit.
Back to home. Since I've been so focused on pool for the last 4 years, I haven't spent much time taking care of my home. Projects were put off. I was falling behind in my home plans. But now, with the pool injury layoff, I have accomplished several major home goals and a bunch of minor ones.
So I'm thinking that makes Home an essential part of a balanced life.
Preferably, Home with pool table, of course.
The moral of this story is to Beware the addictive power of pool, that it grows in you like a parasite until your whole life is taken over by it, even your home is second to it, and one day you're living under a bridge.
This is not a good thing. So, would it kill you to stay home one night a week?
Continued extensive experimentation with the new HiDefinition video recorder.
During daylight hours I did ocean videos and learned about the cloudy setting, and the manual focus setting, and the need for a polarizing lens, and the need for a microphone, and I figured out a neat way to house an outdoor webcam.
During the early evening hours I tackled the pool table video, and learned about tungsten lighting, auto focus, camera angles, better sound and lighting, and I also learned that I gotta kick up my energy level. I get bored looking at myself shoot pool. That's bad. Maybe I could try to chalk and walk at the same time! Definitely should keep chalk on me (use a pocket chalker). I have wanted to change my entire chalking routine and today's videos have convinced me of it.
I should also keep moving. It's just too slow.
I know exactly what will help me with that: The Billiard Practice Assistant who is currently in hiding (See Help Wanted Ad) but is expected to show his/her face soon. I hope.
More stuff to learn and do: Add music. Intro and Credits. DVD
Ok, bad as they are, here are today's videos, but I wasn't really trying, just getting the hang of the camera...
Experiments continue with the new HiDefinition video camera, getting familiar with all the settings.
I found a spot on my book case, right by my easy chair, where I set up the camera to look thru the window, across the balcony, then thru the uprights of the balcony railing, across the parking lot, and driveway, and another driveway and parking lot, past the cliff, the railroad tracks, more cliff, then the surf... What an excellent telephoto on this box!
I was expecting nothing special, just experimenting with light settings, and after about 20 minutes, a little slice of life happens...
So there's one more thing about life beyond pool, the surf, that magical foamy place where sea and land come together, under a common sky.
And when all this happens, and the sun is setting, it's great to be alive.
Too often I never see a sunset because I am so into the game. My focus is complete.
These last few months while recovering from my shoulder injury, and not shooting much pool, I have noticed that my life is somehow more full, or at least it seems that way, because I'm getting more done, my life is more organized, I am less stressed, and I spend more time on the beach, and see more sunsets.
It seems that there should be more balance in my life.
Is there a way to have pool, and the surf, sunsets, beach... (I want it all) and a Ferrari too, ok?
The season is upon us. Ferrari has unveiled the new F1 car.
click the photo for flash videos and more FerrariWorld.com features.
OK, now that we're on the subject (Ferrari), check this out:
Shown below is the 12 year old Ferrari I was driving 30 years ago. That would have been my mid-life crisis. I was 16 years out of high school, and it would be another 16 years until all the work was done.
Photo taken somewhere south of Big Sur, CA. I had been living in California for about a year. After having endured 3 Chicago winters.
The car is a 1966 Ferrari model #275 GTB, 12 cylinders of pure sex on wheels. They made about 300 of these. Beautiful burgundy color, black leather interior. Wire wheels. It had a physical presence.
I bought this cheap because it was 12 years old, very near its all time low price. I drove it every day for 2+ years, and sold it for the same amount I paid.
I sold it because I was going bankrupt. My business went bust. I had hit bottom for the first time.
But things eventually got back on track, I worked harder and smarter, and got lucky too, of course, and soon enough, there were more Ferraris to come...
The following ad is currently running in Craigslist, San Diego, North County:
Help Wanted Billiards Practice Assistant
No experience necessary. Set up shots, keep records, operate video camera. Earn while you learn. $10 per hour. Part time. Del Mar. Must be over 21, no criminal record, drug free, have good manual dexterity, read/write English fluently, and want to work in a clean, quiet and smoke-free environment.
Below is the First letter to those who reply to the ad in Craigslist:
Thank you for your interest in this unique opportunity to be a Billiards Practice Assistant.
You would be working for an equal opportunity company that gives all profits to a worthy cause.So if you’re looking to get rich quick, it would be best to keep looking elsewhere.This job pays only $10 per hour to start, and out of that you have to pay your own taxes, but at least it’s better than minimum wage.
And at least you’ll be working inside, out of the rain and cold of night and heat of day.In fact, the location is Del Mar, with an ocean view, so the job has some benefits.
But first, are you at least 21 years old, in good physical condition, a non-smoker, with no criminal record, drug free, have your own transportation to/from Del Mar area, and checkable references?
And, you’re a team player, and eager to learn?
Here are some of the Benefits:You earn a little extra money as a sideline, you learn some things you never knew about the game of billiards, you get access to an extensive billiards library of books and DVDs, and your hands might even get in a High Definition video DVD or YouTube video clip (General Audiences). And, the best part: it’s all for a worthy cause.
Here are more details:
* part-time work, afternoons and/or evenings, cannot guarantee hours, but 15 hrs/wk is estimated
* will learn to operate a High Definition video camcorder,
* perform basic record keeping, keep a log book of drills, setups, performance stats, etc.
* possess manual dexterity, speed and efficiency in setting up billiard balls in various arrangements on the table
* as the environment is a very quiet and meditative one, there will be limited talking and no ipods or phone calls during work hours
If you are qualified please send the following information:
which shift are you applying for (, M-F or, M-F)
your name/address/home phone, cell phone, work phone, website (personal, work, other)
a personal statement as to why you feel that you would be right for this opportunity
provide references of persons you have worked for (bosses only, not peers), and/or the name of your school
provide details of your billiards experience and manual dexterity
provide resume' of work experience including dates, company name, type of work and reason for leaving
To deal with inquiries and to keep track of all the information and details, I have contracted with Jane Guthrie, who is an exceptionally efficient person. She will go through all the information and if it's all good then Jane will schedule first a phone call, then possibly an interview.
In the interview, the candidate will be evaluated in these areas:
1. Hands - will be in some video, so candidates will have extra credit for attractive hands, clean, nails neatly trimmed, no tattoos. 2. Face - ditto, although the face will not at all be a focus of the video, the assistant's face may enter the video area in some shots, so it should be allowed for in the selection process. No facial hair (beard, moustache, muttonchops, Elvis sideburns, soul patch, etc). 3.Voice - the voice of the applicant is not expected to be recorded, therefore it is not a matter for consideration at this time, but it could come in to play later, so it should not be ruled out altogether. 4.Evidence of manual dexterity, ability to juggle a major plus, card dealer in a casino, bass player, piano/keyboard player, freestyle frisbee player, yo-yo artist, puppeteer, magician, or other skills demonstrating manual dexterity and thereby giving some indication of success in this unique job opportunity. 5. Quiet demeanor - quiet, comfortable, confident, not hyperactive or overly talkative. Allow for nervousness in initial interview. 6. Scent. Eliminate gum and tobacco chewers, or if they smell like smoke or are heavily scented with perfumes or other agents (including BO). 7. Eye contact. Look for signs of attention, interest, intelligence, humor, compassion, 8. Body Language. Calm, comfortable, confident, secure, peaceful, interested, moves with assurance and balance. 9. Handwriting. Must be legible, clear.
When Jane has narrowed the search to 3 Finalists, then she will make those 3 recommendations to me, and then I get to meet all three, and then hopefully select one lucky Winner!
A reader inquired about my use of hypnosis for pre-match preparation.
This is a topic I have not covered before because I wanted to keep it as one of my private secrets to success. So now, for the first time ever, here's my take on hypnosis:
Up until I started using Self-Hypnosis for pool, about 4 years ago, my estimation of it was that while it may be an interesting thing for some people, it wasn't the sort of thing I wanted to try. I don't like anybody having control over me, make me act like a chicken, or leaving little messages in my head, telling me to jump off a roof.
But when I started to realize just how much the game of billiards is Mental, that's when I started giving serious consideration to Self-Hypnosis.
I was lucky to have a trusted guide, a good friend who just happens to be a highly entertaining comedy stage hypnotist, Barry Jones. I had hired Barry a long time ago to perform for the customers at my software company's annual conference. It was amazing! He got to talking and within minutes he had virtually everyone in the audience in a trance!
Of course, I had to stay "normal", I couldn't let myself go in front of all my customers! So, until just a couple of years ago, I refused and rejected hypnosis.
But, again, if pool is so much mental, then hypnosis, which is all mental, might be of some use, right? And, if it's Self-hypnosis, and I know what I'm telling myself, then, it might be worth a try.
I started with a visit with Barry. He told me all about the process. And gave me a book, I think it was "Hypnosis for Dummies".
I took a week or so to do research, and feel comfortable with the idea, then had another meeting with him to go through the process, to see if I could be hypnotized (not for everyone, it seems).
We discussed some of the things that I wanted out of the process. I think I told him I wanted reduced stress, that I wanted to eliminate the nervousness, that sort of thing.
Then he went through the process, talking me into a very relaxed state, then moving into talking about pool, and how I would feel while playing, and then he started to bring me out of it. It was all over in what seemed to be about 20 minutes. I didn't feel as if I had been hypnotized. He said that's how you're supposed to feel. Strange stuff.
Ok, so now that I had the general idea, it was time for me to move on into Self-Hypnosis.
This is simply doing the same things, but you record your voice, and play it back on your iPod (or whatever).
I wrote a script, so I would know I covered all the bases, then sent it to Barry for approval, which he gave, and then I recorded it.
I then used that same recording for the next couple of years. I played it at night just before sleep. Many times I would be asleep before the end of the 11 minute recording. I would also play it before a match, and in some cases between matches in a long tournament.
About a year ago I experimented with a product on the market that I found at Bebob Publishing a site where I buy some pool books and DVDs.
The product comes in two sets of CDs:
Overcoming Contenderosis (5 CDs) and The Dead Stroke Tapes (6 CDs)
I finally settled on 1 or 2 sessions out of the 22 sessions on the CDs that reflected what I wanted to work on. I used these sessions during my last undefeated run last summer.
In summary, I think it can help. It works because we give it the power to work.
I'll mention more about self-hypnosis and how I used it to succeed in billiards in The Book, which is now in development. Stay tuned...
Don't get me wrong, I'm not a pig. Quite the opposite, actually.
I'm one of the cleanest people I know. I'm a real Virgo: meticulous to a fault, a "clean freak", almost a germophobe.
So why not clean the table? Because it turns into such a Project!
Take today, for example. I finally couldn't take it any longer, the table was looking totally disgusting. Something had to be done.
1. remove all the balls 2. brush the table 3. spray clean the table (using Quick-Clean) 4. damp-wipe the pocket insides 5. Pledge the rails 6. clean the balls (using the Ball Star)
So far, so good, and now I'm on a roll... My "clean jones" is on high alert, and I notice that the carpet needs vacuuming. But of course I can't just vacuum one room, so I gotta do the kitchen, and the bedroom, and the hall...
And when I put the vac back, now I gotta rearrange the hall closet. See what I mean? A real Project.
And when I finally stop cleaning, hours later, I'm too wasted to practice pool. How crazy is that?
Seventy six minutes of excellent pool with Oliver Ortmann vs. Herb Lehman... Herb who? Although the name is not familiar to me, Googling reveals that in 1994 he was inducted into the New England Pool & Billiards Hall of Fame. And he makes some really nice shots in this video.
These videos are great learning tools. What I'm seeing is that straight pool has ALL the shots, and especially precision position shots and shots where the cue ball is very close to the object ball. These are things I am working on.
These recent straight pool videos are from the 1983 Straight Pool Championship at Amsterdam Billiards in NYC. I really need to play there on my next trip east.
Once I got started,
I wolfed down 3 of these critters,
stopping only when the fixin's were gone.
By the way, isn't all Mexican food
really all the same stuff
put together differently and called something else?
Anyway, after going majorly Glutton,
I couldn't move, let along play any more pool,
so I fell into bed for a siesta,
and didn't eat anything else for 20 hours.
Isn't this ridiculous, all this food talk?
This is a pool blog, right?
OK, I swear this is my last food blog.
Want more, go to the links above.
But now that I'm on the subject,
here's my favorite breakfast:
(Click photo for the story: "Great Moments in Pancake History")
I have been refining the art of food
for the last 22 years.
That's how long I have had the good fortune
to have the same cook,
and, working together,
we have developed some of the
finest vegetarian cuisine on this planet.
About 2 years ago,
I put together some of our best recipes
into a book and put it on the internet
as a public service to all mankind.
I am convinced that this food
will stop wars, cure disease,
and guarantee eternal bliss.
Consider the fact that I have
been eating this food for the last 4 years
and gone from a D player to an A.