[Bloganuary] Sportsball!

This post is part of my attempt at Bloganuary 2024. Today’s prompt is:

What are your favourite sports to watch and play?

I’ve never really been very sports-motivated. I enjoy casually participating, but I can’t really see the attraction in spectating most sports, most of the time1.

I’m a good team player at basketball, for sure.

My limited relationship with sports

There are several activities I enjoy doing that happen to overlap with sports: swimming, cycling, etc., but I’m not doing them as sports. By which I mean: I’m not doing them competitively (and I don’t expect that to change).

I used to appreciate a game of badminton once in a while, and I’ve plenty of times enjoyed kicking a ball around with whoever’s there (party guests… the kids… the dog…2). But again, I’ve not really done any competitive sports since I used to play rugby at school, way back in the day3.

Dan, wearing a red t-shirt and in bright sunshine, pretends (badly) to be shouting excitedly. In the background, a group of people are watching a televised rugby match; one is wearing a South African flag as a cape.
“Yay, sports‽” This photo was taken in a Cape Town bar which was screening the 2019 Rugby World Cup final between England and South Africa. Much as I didn’t care about the sports, I loved the energy and atmosphere that the fans brought (and I’ve sufficient comprehension of the sport to appreciate that South Africa played a spectacular game, putting up an unstoppable wall of players to overcome the odds and take home the cup).

I guess I don’t really see the point in spectating sports that I don’t have any personal investment in. Which for me means that it’d have to involve somebody I care about!

A couple of dozen strangers running about for 90 minutes does nothing for me, because I haven’t the patriotism to care who wins or loses. But put one of my friends or family on the pitch and I might take an interest4!

What went wrong with football, for example

In some ways, the commercialisation of sport seems to me to be… just a bit sad?

Take soccer (association football), for example, whose explosive success in the United Kingdom helped bolster the worldwide appeal it enjoys today.

Up until the late 19th century soccer was exclusively an amateur sport: people played on teams on evenings and weekends and then went back to their day jobs the rest of the time. In fact, early football leagues in the UK specifically forbade professional players!5

Monochrome line drawing showing a 19th century scene of a football match. The ball appears to have been headed towards the goal by a jumping player; the goalkeeper is poised to dive for it.
Back in the 19th century the rules hadn’t been fully-standardised, either. If you look carefully at this contemporaneous picture, you’ll see that all these players are wearing the same kit, because there’s only one team. Also, the goalkeeper is wearing riding chaps because he’s permitted to bring his horse onto the pitch for up to 13 minutes in each match. I may or may not be making all of that up.

As leagues grew beyond local inter-village tournaments and reached the national stage, this approach gave an unfair advantage to teams in the South of England over those in the North and in Scotland. You see, the South had a larger proportion of landed gentry (who did not need to go back to a “day job” and could devote more of their time to practice) and a larger alumni of public schools (which had a long history with the sport in some variation or another)!6

Clamour from the Northern teams to be allowed to employ professional players eventually lead to changes in the rules to permit paid team members so long as they lived within a certain distance of the home pitch7. The “locality” rule for professional players required that the player had been born, or had lived for two years, within the vicinity of the club. People turned up to cheer on the local boys8, paid their higher season ticket prices to help fund not only the upkeep of the ground and the team’s travel but now also their salaries. Still all fine.

Things went wrong when the locality rule stopped applying. Now teams were directly competing with one another for players, leading to bidding wars. The sums of money involved in signing players began to escalate. Clubs merged (no surprise that so many of those “Somewheretown United” teams sprung up around this period) and grew larger and begun marketing in new ways to raise capital: replica kits, televised matches, sponsorship deals… before long running a football team was more about money than location.

And that’s where we are today, and why the odds are good that your local professional football team doesn’t have any players that you or anybody you know will ever meet in person.

That’s a bit of a long a way to say “nah, I’m not terribly into sports”, isn’t it?


1 I even go to efforts to filter sports news out of my RSS subscriptions!

2 The dog loves trying to join in a game of football and will happily push the ball up and down the pitch, but I don’t think she understands the rules and she’s indecisive about which team she’s on. Also, her passing game leaves a lot to be desired, and her dribbling invariably leaves the ball covered in drool.

3 And even then, my primary role in the team was to be a chunky dirty-fighter of a player who got in the way of the other team and wasn’t afraid to throw his weight around.

4 Unless it’s cricket. What the fuck is cricket supposed to be about? I have spectated a cricket match featuring people I know and I still don’t see the attraction.

5 Soccer certainly wasn’t the first sport to “go professional” in the UK; cricket was way ahead of it, for example. But it enjoys such worldwide popularity today that I think it’s a good example to use in a history lesson.

6 I’m not here to claim that everything that’s wrong with the commercialisation of professional football can be traced to the North/South divide in England.. but we can agree it’s a contributing factor, right?

7 Here’s a fun aside: this change to the rules about employment of professional players didn’t reach Scotland until 1893, and many excellent Scottish players – wanting to make a career of their hobby – moved to England in order to join English teams as professional players. In the 1890s, the majority of the players at Preston North End (whose stadium I lived right around the corner of for over a decade) were, I understand, Scottish!

8 And girls! Even in the late 19th and early 20th centuries there were women’s football teams: Dick, Kerr Ladies F.C., also from Preston (turns out there’s a reason the National Football Museum was, until 2012, located there), became famous for beating local men’s teams and went on to represent England internationally. But in 1921 the FA said that “the game of football is quite unsuitable for females and should not be encouraged”, and banned from the leagues any men’s team that shared their pitch with a women’s team. The ban was only rescinded in 1971. Thanks, FA.

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[Bloganuary] Playtime

This post is part of my attempt at Bloganuary 2024. Today’s prompt is:

Do you play in your daily life? What says “playtime” to you?

How do I play? Let me count the ways!


I’m involved in no fewer than three different RPG campaigns (DMing the one for The Levellers) right now, plus periodic one-shots. I love a good roleplaying game, especially one that puts character-building and storytelling above rules-lawyering and munchkinery, specifically because that kind of collaborative, imaginative experience feels more like the kind of thing we call “play” when done it’s done by children!

Composite photo showing a young boy rolling a D20 onto a character sheet in front of a tabletop battlemap, and three monitors in a dark room showing a video chat between people and a digital gameboard.
Family D&D and Abnib D&D might have a distinctly different tone, but they’re still both playtime activities.


I don’t feel like I get remotely as much videogaming time as I used to, and in theory I’ve become more-selective about exactly what I spend my time on1.

Dan with his thumbs-up in front of the high-score table (with the top-ranking spot about to be filled) of Wonder Boy, on a generic "80s Arcade Classics" arcade cabinet.
I managed to beat Wonder Boy last week, and it “only” took me three and a half decades!

Board Games

Similarly, I don’t feel like I get as much time to grind through my oversized board games collection as I used to2, but that’s improving as the kids get older and can be roped-into a wider diversity of games3.

A girl, sat in front of an Agricola farmyard board, holds up a "sheeple" (small wooden sheep game piece) for the camera.
Our youngest wakes early on weekend mornings and asks to kick off his day with board games. Our eldest, pictured, has grown to the point where she’s working her way through all of the animal-themed games at our local board games cafe.

Escape Rooms

I love a good escape room, and I can’t wait until the kids are old enough for (more of) them too so I’ve an excuse to do more of them. When we’re not playing conventional escape rooms, Ruth and I can sometimes be found playing board game-style boxed “kit” ones (which have very variable quality, in my experience) and we’ve recently tried a little Escape Academy.

Ruth and Dan hold up an Alice In Wonderland themed sign reading "it went like a dream" underneath the sign for escape room company Escape Hunt. Both are wearing silly hats, and Dan is also wearing white rabbit ears.
Ruth and I make a great duo when we remember to communicate early-and-often and to tag-team puzzles by swapping what we’re focussing on when we get stuck.

GNSS Activities

I’m sure everybody knows I do a modest amount of geocaching and geohashing.4

Dan, outdoors in a field on a grey day and with the wind whipping his hair across his face, wearing a high-vis jacket over a warm fleece, holds up a GPS receiver which shows he's zero metres from his destination.
I’m out standing in my field.

They’re not the only satnav-based activities I do at least partially “for fun” though! I contribute to OpenStreetMap, often through the “gamified” experience of the StreetComplete app, and I’m very slowly creeping up the leader board at OpenBenches. Are these “play”? Sure, maybe.

And all of the above is merely the structured kinds of play I engage in. Playing “let’s pretend”-style games with the kids (even when they make it really, really weird) adds a whole extra aspect. Also there’s the increasingly-rare murder mystery parties we sometimes hold: does that count as roleplaying, or some other kind of play?

Guests dressed as a chef, a priest, and a librarian sit around a dining table at a murder mystery party.
A chef, a priest, and a librarian walk into a party… stop me if you’ve heard this one.

Suffice to say, there’s plenty of play in my life, it’s quite varied and diverse, and there is, if anything, not enough of it!


1 I say that, and yet somehow Steam tells me that one of my most-played games this year was Starfield, which was… meh? Apparently compelling enough that I’ve “ascended” twice, but in hindsight I wish I hadn’t bothered.

2 Someday my group and I will finish Pandemic Legacy: Season 2 so we can get started on Season 0 which has sat unplayed on my shelves since I got it… oooh… two or three years ago‽

3 This Christmas, I got each of them their first “legacy” game: Zombie Kids for the younger one, My City for the elder. They both seem pretty good.

4 Geocaching is where you use military satellite networks to find lost tupperware. Geohashing uses the same technology but what you find is a whole lot of nothing. I don’t think I can explain why I find the latter more-compelling.

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Who finished second?

This article is a repost promoting content originally published elsewhere. See more things Dan's reposted.

Three athletes (and only three athletes) participate in a series of track and field events. Points are awarded for 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place in each event (the same points for each event, i.e. 1st always gets “x” points, 2nd always gets “y” points, 3rd always gets “z” points), with x > y > z > 0, and all point values being integers.
The athletes are named: Adam, Bob, and Charlie.

  • Adam finished first overall with 22 points.
  • Bob won the Javelin event and finished with 9 points overall.
  • Charlie also finished with 9 points overall.

Question: Who finished second in the 100-meter dash (and why)?

I enjoyed this puzzle so much that I shared it with (and discussed it at length with) my smartypants puzzle-sharing group. Now it’s your turn. The answer, plus a full explanation, can be found on the other side of the link, but I’d recommend that you try to solve it yourself first. If it seems impossible at first glance, start by breaking it down into what you can know, and what you can almost know, and work from there. Good luck!

And if anybody feels like hiring Nick to come and speak anywhere near where I am, that’d be awesome of you.

Note #16045

Who’d have thought that my onboarding fortnight at @WooCommerce / @Automattic would conclude with a very literal “on-boarding”. Hang five! 🏄🏼‍♂️

Dan and other members of his team head out into the sea with surfboards (animated GIF).


The Race

Last weekend, I was cycling through Oxford, as I do, enjoying a reasonably leisurely pace. I say leisurely, but it’s been my experience that compared to the cyclists in Aberystwyth, where the city planners decided to build every single road on the side of a hill, the cyclists in Oxford are somewhat… wussy. They’re numerous, certainly, but very few of them actually put their backs into the activity, instead preferring to crawl around at a frankly pedestrian speed along their overcrowded cycle paths.

On several occasions, I’ve routinely seen people get off their bikes and push to get up even mild to moderate slopes like that outside the hospital, around the corner from Earth. The slope is long, certainly, but these people aren’t even giving up half-way… they’re giving up at the bottom! It just makes me want to send them to Aber for a few years to learn what real hills look like.

The hill up to Headington: at it's most-severe, a gentle slope that shouldn't put an experienced cyclist out of breath (and shouldn't require getting off and pushing from anything but a complete beginner).

So there I was, cycling into the city centre, overtaking other cyclists as I went, when another cyclist… overtook me! This was only the second time this had ever happened to me since I moved to Oxford last summer. The other time, like this one, the perpetrator was a fit, lean young man, clad from the neck downwards in skin-tight lycra, donned with a streamlined helmet and riding a bike that just screamed out that it wanted to be raced. It was almost begging me to give it a challenge. So I did.

I raced.

I guess part of me was offended that he happened to have come across me on a day when I was taking it easy. Traveling to and from work, for example, I’ve been pushing myself: the other week, I beat my personal best, making the 2.4 mile journey from the Bodleian‘s bike sheds to my garage door in just a little over seven and a half minutes. How dare this… enthusiast… overtake me when I’m just on a gentle meander in the sun.

I raced.

We were just pulling into high street when he passed me, buzzing past in his fancy orange-and-black cycling shorts like a bumblebee riding a bullet. Ahead, cars and buses were coming to walking pace, backed up as far as I could see as the bank holiday traffic ground what was once a trunk road into little more than a car park. Between the vehicles, cycles picked their way around, darting in and out of the lanes of traffic. This was to be our arena.

My pedals span as I dropped back into a less-comfortable gear, picking up speed and pulling around a police van to get right onto the tail of my opponent. His speed advantage had been reduced by having to evade a taxi cab, and within a few seconds I was able to pull up into the wake of his slipsteam. Ahead, a bus began to pull away from a stop, and he overtook it. Seeing my chance as the bus began to indicate, I went around the inside, pulling almost alongside him as we streaked across the first of the pelican crossings and into the next block of traffic. Car, car, van, car, bus… we passed each one on one side or the other, and I occasionally caught a glimpse of the young man with whom I was competing.

Up ahead, the second pelican crossing switched to red, and we pulled up to the line together. Surprised at having somebody alongside him, I think, he looked across at me, and looked even more surprised when he recognised me as the person he’d overtaken a little while back. He eyed up my bike, as if he were assessing his chances. He seemed confident: and why not – he was riding a lightweight racing bike, designed to make the most of every bit of its rider’s strength to propel it along. I was on a mountain bike, designed to be rugged and durable – multi-purpose, nowadays. Weighed down by mudguards and pannier frames, I didn’t fancy my chances either. But my bike was running very well – I’d recently stripped it down to its component parts, washed and re-greased each, rebuilt it and fine-tuned it – and if ever it was set up to take on this racer, today was the day.

The lights changed, and we were off. He wasn’t holding back, now, and by the time we were half-way to the junction with St. Aldates I was panting, gulping down air to feed to my legs, pumping away beneath me.  Our routes sometimes put us side-by-side or one behind the other, sometimes put us on the other sides of lines of stationary cars, but always kept us in sight of one another. This was going to be close.

The lights at the junction were in our favour, and we both rocketed around into the downhill section at St. Aldates. Buses crawled along the street, but there was plenty of room on the wide, slick surface, so we accelerated as we shot down the centre of the road. Ahead, heat haze made the black surface glisten like oil, and I was suddenly aware of how much I was sweating. Summoning all of my strength, I stood up and leant forwards, searching for just another half a mile an hour to catch up with him; his slender bike and slender body cutting through the headwind and pulling away from me. It worked: by the bottom of the road, I was alongside him again, and we were almost to my destination: the bridge at the bottom.

“My stop!” I called out, holding my arm out to indicate (mostly to him; there were no cars behind us at even close to our speed) where I was to go. I came to a halt, glad that I’d thought to tune up the brakes during my recent maintenance. He pulled alongside me, and for a moment I wondered if he perhaps had the same destination as me.

“Are you in a cycling club?” he asked, and I noticed that he, too, was beginning to get out of breath – although not so badly as I was.

“No,” I replied.

“You should be!” he said, “That kind of speed, on a bike like… that…” He gestured to my bike.

As he sped away and I started to look for a place to lock up my bike, I felt a great sense of satisfaction and pride. I didn’t know that I’d be able to match pace with him, but through sheer grit and determination, I’d managed. And then, just as I was chaining my bike to a conveniently nearby fence, another thought occurred:

I was still holding the letter that I’d meant to post on my way here. The postbox was back at about the beginning of the race… you know; where I was slowing down to begin with.


Disc Golf

After moving to Earth, one of the things I thought might be fun was to use the excuse of being in a new place to try out some new things. A quick Google around the area uncovered OxDisc, the local Disc Golf society, who meet once or twice a week in a park less than half an hour’s walk from my house. Given that all I knew about disc golf I learned from the summary at the top of the Wikipedia page for the sport, I knew… well, basically nothing except that it was like golf, only with a frisbee and target rather than a ball and cup.

Accompanied by Ruth and JTA, who I’d somehow persuaded to join me, I set out to try to meet some strangers in a park. Having only spoken to anybody associated with the group online (all of whom subsequently turned out to be on holiday or otherwise unavailable), all we knew was vaguely where we were headed and that we were looking for a guy called George: sure, no problem – how hard can that be?

JTA stands well out of the way as Ruth makes a throw

Luckily, it turned out to be reasonably easy to find our contact: once we were in the vicinity, all we had to do was look for the guy carrying a bag full of frisbees. Here came my first surprise: players don’t use just one disc. Three is pretty much a minimum – a long-range, high-speed “driver”, an easier to control but still pretty fast “approach disc” (or “mid-range”), and a slow “putter”. Only the putter looked like any kind of frisbee I’d ever thrown before: the others looked more like a rubber discus that had been given a lip to make it throwable in the same way as a frisbee is. George lent us each a set of three discs, explaining some of the differences between them. Professional players can be found carrying a variety of different drivers with different weights (and weight distributions) to make them tend towards understability or overstability or be more or less suitable for hyzer, anhyzer, forehand, elevator, and other varieties of throw. Yes, they have their own lingo: and I thought that this would be like throwing a frisbee around a park.

My "driver", nestled in the short tufty grass of Headington Hill parkMy "driver", nestled in the short tufty grass of Headington Hill park

We teed off on the first hole of one of the courses that the group sometimes take around the park: markers like a protruding tree root or a gap between a path and a tree marked the tees, and the targets were all particular trees. Some of the courses were set up such that it was actually impossible to see the target from the tee as a result of the intervening trees, and so – without a profound knowledge of the course nor the sport – I had to fall back on a strategy of “throwing it sort-of in the right direction” as best I could and hoping.

Hunting for a lost disc

Needless to say, my very first throw was a disaster. Unfamiliar with the unusual weight balance of the faster discs (some of which were “overbalanced”; that is, if you throw backhand using your right arm, as most people normally throw a frisbee, it will tend towards the left given an even spin and a level takeoff… are you following all of this? I certainly wasn’t), I was doomed to balls up my first throw… it rocketed forwards and then suddenly flew off to the left, diving deep into a forest of waist-high nettles. About 30 seconds later, I began to really regret choosing to wear shorts for this particular adventure, as my lower legs were rapidly becoming a mass of nettle stings.

Fore! Frisbee away!

Some of the other folks were obviously far, far more accomplished than any of us. Several times, we saw frisbees thrown end-on, like darts, flicked into the air where somehow they’d magically stabilise at exactly the right height to clear a particular obstacle. On a few occasions, the other players would fling their discs in physics-bending ways, turning right to avoid an obstacle then slowing down and turning left to clear the other side of it. Once, I even got to watch a guy deliberately throw his frisbee upside-down in order to “skim” it under a bush and right up to the target tree!

I was pleased with myself that by the end, I could generally throw the mid-range approach disc in a vaguely straight line, some of the time, and that once, I managed to pull off a hook shot up and over (and around) an inconveniently-placed copse, landing the frisbee almost exactly where I wanted it. But just the once, mind.

JTA launches a frisbee from the rut in which it had landed

JTA seemed to pick up the sport pretty quickly, and on the long straight sections easily outperformed me (although I think I had more accurate “putting” ability). Ruth had somewhat more difficulty: the difficulties with her wrists left her unable to “snap” the disc out of her hand, which resulted in far slower throws. Nonetheless, we all had a good time and we’re talking about going along again… right as soon as we’ve had the chance to get a bit of practice in, so we don’t look like quite such wallies!

At the end of the evening, we were surprisingly more well-exercised than we expected (considering that it’s a sport of 5% throwing, 95% walking), and enjoyed the opportunity to calorie-up on ale and crisps at a nearby pub before making the trek home in the sticky warmth of the low sun.

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