Henry at Media Day 2012

Media Lessons From The King

Today, Thierry Henry announced he would not be returning to the New York Red Bulls following the expiration of his contract. The move was not a surprise, but still has left many that surround the team a bit down.

So much ink has already been spilled about the legacy of the last four years: his talent on the field, his role with the club, his impact on MLS. He’s been an anchor since I returned to caring about the league in 2010, someone that I couldn’t believe I got to watch perform week in and week out.

But as I’m writing this on my personal site, I want to reflect on the other lasting mark Henry has left on me: he was the rare player that demanded more out of everyone involved with the team, including the media.

If you follow league beat reporters, particularly those who deal with RBNY routinely, you’re aware of his reputation when dealing with the media in the locker room. Some would label him “cranky”. Some declared him “rude”. An incident where he declined media availability after a 1-1 draw against Chivas USA in 2012 sparked a brief dust-up between media and supporters about whether or not beats had any right to speak to players at all.

Obligatory Picture Of My Stupid Face In Henry's Scrum

I won’t claim to “know” Henry from my three years of sticking a microphone towards his face, but I at least grew to have an understanding of him.

Thierry didn’t relish dealing with the media hovering around his locker, but he accepted it. (European locker rooms aren’t open to media, but MLS mandates the doors open 15 minutes after the match ends.) He was typically the last player to speak after a match, sometimes waiting a solid hour after the final whistle, which triggered its fair share of pissed off “You’re waiting HOW LONG?” text messages from soccer media widows. But Henry always seemed to have a level of professional respect for those of us who did stick around.

Thierry had his cliches – “as I said to you before”, “I don’t know if you remember”, and “not having a go at any one” being the three go-to for any Henry impersonation – but he genuinely considered every question. I can’t remember him being on auto-pilot or content with performances – he always latched on to something the team could improve on. If the team did badly, he was open about it. If the team won 4-1, he would complain about the conceded goal. If the team won 4-0, he would caution about celebrating too much, because he knew it wouldn’t be long before the team regressed.

His knowledge of the game was impossibly deep. He would run down talent on opposing rosters not that they had just faced, but that were coming up. He would commend systems and coaches elsewhere in MLS. He would frequently drop analogies involving NBA teams, the other sport he truly loved.

Following a recent home game, as he was getting ready at his locker, I watched him look up at the closed circuit TV, that was showing the annual NYPD vs. FDNY match. And he watched it just long enough, and gestured at the TV, that I could’ve swore he was analyzing the match.

Nearly as much as he loved challenging defenders on the field, he took a deep pleasure in challenging dumb or trite questions.

Thoughts on the match? “It was 90 minutes.”

Have you ever played in a game as crazy as that one? “I’ve played in a lot of games.”

Do you enjoy the new away jersey the club just released? “I don’t know, I haven’t worn it yet.”

An intricate question about his position moving wide left as he used to at Arsenal? Gets swatted down because he insists he didn’t play there at Arsenal.

My own personal dressing down (which I was surprised to find I still had the audio for) came after a softball about what he had seen from the reserves during a friendly he didn’t play in. He had often loved talking up the younger players who didn’t get a lot of field time, but apparently not as much as he loved giving me crap about trying to gain insight from a friendly:

What Thierry taught me, more than anyone else in the RBNY locker room, is the value of asking a question with a non-obvious answer. You can’t lose the germane questions entirely to get an interview rolling, but unless there’s something I can’t answer in my head, I’ve learned to just listen.

Perhaps the most noticeable thing in his final year with the club was how focused he was on the team, and not himself. As the “What are you doing next year?” questions came up nearly every week, his answer was always the same: “We’ll talk about that after the season ends.” Even in the announcement today, the thought was the same: he didn’t want to take the focus off the team’s performance. He didn’t want a farewell tour, teams bringing him gifts, endless fawning media tributes. He wanted to put his head down and be one of the eleven guys on the field.

There was an article in the club’s corporate magazine that had perhaps my favorite quote that wrapped up how he saw himself:

I keep on reiterating to everybody, I didn’t save anyone’s life, I’m not a hero, I’m none of those things. I was just out there to play the game and while I understand I gave some people joy and I ended up loving the club I played for most of my career, I didn’t go to war to protect my country. That’s worthy of elevation to the status of ‘hero’, you know? I just want people to remember me for playing some soccer and that’s all. Another player will come along and erase all those records but as long as people can recall me in some way it means that I’ve done something right.

Thanks, Thierry. It’s been a pleasure.

Not Cool, Comedy Central

On Sunday night, Katie and I went to the Paley Center panel for Broad City. We’re big fans of the show, and it was a good panel. (If you’re a fan of the show, ask me about the Hannibal anecdote.)

During the panel, Katie took a nice Instagram photo:

Katie's Photo

It was so nice, that Monday evening she noticed that Comedy Central had liked her photo. She’s taken a lot of pride in putting things on Instagram lately, as she’s been building a decent following. But then she tapped through to Comedy Central’s instagram account and saw this:

Comedy Central's Photo

A filter, a different crop, and a logo doesn’t change the fact that this is very clearly Katie’s photo – unless someone was sitting at the exact same angle and took a picture at virtually the same instance.

And I’m willing to guess that isn’t the case, because you’ll notice the link is now broken. That’s because after bringing attention to it on Twitter, Comedy Central yanked it down and replaced it with this:

Comedy Central's New Photo

Notice how quick they were here to credit the Paley Center’s photographer in this instance – just not the original.

Look – it’s 2014. Social media teams should be well aware by now that if you’re going to repurpose a photo from another user, attribution is a pretty basic courtesy. Yet not only did Comedy Central not attribute Katie’s photo, nor did they issue an apology (which is all Katie would like) – they decided to replace it entirely with someone else’s. They got caught, and rather than do the right thing, tried to erase the evidence – all the evidence except the like on Katie’s original photo. (At least, as I’m writing this. I wouldn’t be surprised if they revoke the like should someone read this post.)

I have personal experience that people within Comedy Central know how to properly respect copyright. I’m just saddened their social team thinks this is acceptable.

Calculating My 2014 MLS MVP Vote

(Trigger warning for non-soccer friends: this is all soccer.)

The end of the season MLS award voting is a bit of a struggle. With rather nebulously defined categories, voters (of which I am afforded a ballot through my media role) is forced to scratch their heads a lot. We try to figure out what level of adversity justifies the “Comeback Player Of The Year” award. We read through team-supplied biographies of various charitable efforts to work out who deserves “MLS WORKS Humanitarian Of The Year”.

And “Most Valuable Player”? It’s hopeless. Player “value” is subjective to the individual person, and so what makes one player valuable to one voter may not matter at all to another. And it’s been particularly difficult in 2014, with no clear frontrunner across any of the 19 MLS teams. Yet it’s serious business: one Twitter user declared me a “fucking idiot” for not having their favorite player in my short list.

So inspired by the Grand Ginger Of Major League Soccer (who advocates for having a formula for deciding your MVP, despite Twellman’s objections), I decided to create my own algorithm this year to help me figure out my vote.

First, I had to select a player pool. Defensive metrics are nearly impossible to come by, so I limited the list to forward and midfield players, trying to get at least one per team (with a few exceptions: sorry Colorado / Montreal / San Jose!). The twenty names that ended up on the spreadsheet were:

Quincy Amarikwa (Chicago); Will Bruin (Houston); Bradley Wright-Phillips (New York); Erick “Cubo” Torres (Chivas USA); Jermain Defoe (Toronto); Clint Dempsey (Seattle); Landon Donovan (L.A.); Dom Dwyer (Kansas City); Fabian Espindola (D.C.); Ethan Finlay (Columbus); Thierry Henry (New York); Robbie Keane (L.A.); Sebastian Le Toux (Philadelphia); Obafemi Martins (Seattle); Lee Nguyen (New England); Pedro Morales (Vancouver); Joao Plata (Salt Lake); Luis Silva (D.C.); Diego Valeri (Portland); Gyasi Zardes (L.A.)

Independently from the players, I had to select what stats mattered to me, and how much each counted.

I started with the most critical thing you can do as a player: win games for your team. So game winning goals were given a weight of 4 points each, and game winning assists would earn 3 points each.

Next, I wanted to reward offensive production in general, so non-penalty goals earned 2 points (even if they were the same as the game winner). Non-game-winning assists were worth 1 point.

Then I wanted to consider what actions an offensive player could take that would damage their team’s ability to win. I could only think of two that were easily measured: missed penalties and red cards. Red cards being the more serious of the two, I subtracted two points for each red and removed a single point for a missed penalty kick.

This gave me a raw score for each player. How did it look? Here was the top ten:

  1. Robbie Keane (79 points)
  2. Lee Nguyen (71 points)
  3. Bradley Wright-Phillips (68 points)
  4. Tie, Clint Dempsey and Obafemi Martins (61 points each)
  5. (see #4)
  6. Landon Donovan (59 points)
  7. Tie, Dom Dwyer and Gyasi Zardes (58 points each)
  8. (see #7)
  9. Thierry Henry (53 points)
  10. Diego Valeri (52 points)

For most pundits, this is a cut and dry confirmation of what many had been saying: Robbie Keane’s production was ridiculous, and he was an easy vote for MVP. (Grant Wahl offered his case for Keane winning MVP today, which partially lead to this post being written.)

I, unsurprisingly, am not most pundits.

I get very hung up on the word “valuable”, and after rolling it around in my head for a while, I couldn’t overlook one thing: the pay scale in MLS is quite notoriously out of whack. This is, after all, a league where a player on one side of the locker room may be making $6,000,000 as a base salary (like Toronto FC striker Jermain Defoe), while his teammate across the room may be on the league minimum of $36,500 (like Toronto FC midfielder Daniel Lovitz).

So I wanted to apply a “salary factor”, one that would adjust the player’s performance in light of their salary. This took a little while to figure out a reasonable system for, because with the range so great, it could very easily tilt the scale too far away from designated players.

The formula I came up with looks like this:

Factor = SQRT(SQRT([Player Base Salary] / [League Median Salary]))

The league median in 2014, per articles I dug up, was $80,000. Taking the fourth root stabilized the values into a range from 0.89 (for Ethan Finlay, making just $50,848) up to 2.94 (for Jermain Defoe). Dom Dwyer sits right at $80,000, so he was the only player to not have his raw score modified by the multiplier.

Is the factor uniformly fair? It’s debatable, but my general impression is yes. The Keanes and Defoes of the world should be better than the guys making a sliver of their salary. (Again, I’m obsessing over value, and I get that’s not for everyone.)

Here, then, are the rankings of all 20 players scaled by salary:

  1. Lee Nguyen (58.38 points)
  2. Dom Dwyer (58.00 points)
  3. Gyasi Zardes (51.88 points)
  4. Joao Plata (50.66 points)
  5. Bradley Wright-Phillips (47.71 points)
  6. Ethan Finlay (43.68 points)
  7. Luis Silva (37.88 points)
  8. Will Bruin (36.49 points)
  9. Fabian Espindola (35.89 points)
  10. Diego Valeri (32.89 points)
  11. Erick “Cubo” Torres (30.66 points)
  12. Robbie Keane (28.85 points)
  13. Obafemi Martins (28.76 points)
  14. Quincy Amarikwa (24.72 points)
  15. Sebastian Le Toux (24.07 points)
  16. Landon Donovan (21.85 points)
  17. Clint Dempsey (21.79 points)
  18. Thierry Henry (20.26 points)
  19. Pedro Morales (15.79 points)
  20. Jermain Defoe (12.91 points)

There’s a lot of interesting occurrences in here, particularly when it comes to LA’s attack. Donovan (4 GWG / 5 GWA) and Keane (5 GWG, 6 GWA) both produced big numbers, but when Gyasi Zardes is in the same ballpark (6 GWG / 0 GWA) for a fraction of the salary ($125,000 compared to Landon’s $4.25M and Robbie’s $4.5M), it’s hard to argue they’re not getting tremendous value out of their academy product.

But overall, the math confirmed what my gut had been feeling: that Lee Nguyen put up incredible numbers (no one was even close to his nine game winning goals) at what is almost a criminally low salary. (Never mind that he’s not an attacker and produced those numbers as a midfielder.)

So: my first choice vote (you get two choices on the ballot) for the 2014 MLS MVP for Lee Nguyen.

I have no doubt some will want to argue that my weights are wrong, that I’ve overlooked a key metric, or that I’m just dumb for using a spreadsheet to determine who to vote for. And that’s cool, but I’m not looking to argue – it was my vote, one of who knows how many in the media vote, which will only count for 33% of the total vote scoring.

For those that would prefer to argue about this, a request: write your own algorithm. The process is illuminating about what does and doesn’t matter to you when it comes to player performance. (And if you want to lobby people with the votes that count the most, aim for a club’s sporting director/coach/GM/communications director, as those 76 votes combined count as much as the entire media vote.)

As for my second choice? Well, I can’t follow a formula all the time.

Amanda Cohen on Us vs. Them

Amanda Cohen’s rumination on a 1-star review she received on Yelp is a solid read:

So on behalf of 99% of restaurants I want to tell customers: No one’s out to get you. There’s a reason some restaurants do weird things. They may not make sense to you, but could you trust us? Restaurants have one goal in life, to make money. And the easiest way to do that is to help you have the time of your life. And to chefs, this is a service business. It’s not about our egos, or our margins, or our precious, precious food. It’s about making people happy. That’s all most of our customers want.

I think this goes well beyond the restaurant industry into lots of creative disciplines.

RemyWiki Lives On

I’m happy to announce that RemyWiki is back its temporary induced coma, and now living at a new easy-to-remember host. All the data, including accounts, have transferred over.

Many thanks to Corin Simpson-Bryars for taking over the hosting, as well as the plethora of other folks who reached out to offer assistance.

Links to the old site should redirect over to the new site with a 301 code, but if you see any weird behavior, let me know.

Losing My Edge

Let me start with a basic truth: I am not the nerd I was when I was 20 years old.

When I started blogging in 2000, it was something resembling a brave new world. I cut my teeth with learning web programming concepts by building my own crude CMS.

A few years later, I would move to Drupal, and try to stay cutting edge with releases. I’d destroy my database one too many times and eventually moved to MovableType, but even though, I still had the deep nerd passions. I was working as a sysadmin, coding VJArmy and Pop’n Navy, and felt like I had a reasonably strong grasp of the technical skills that were necessary for such things.

Then 2006 came, and I moved out of the directly technical field into the somewhat technical field.

Then 2008 came, and I moved out of the somewhat technical field into the technical management field.

It’s been 14 years since I wrote that rudimentary CMS, and 8 years since I was last a sysadmin. And as the world has changed, my ability to feel any gusto for the idea of configuring Apache and/or patching kernels and/or fprotting tarballs has diminished to zero.

So much like when Movable Type’s troubled history eventually lead me to a snap migration to WordPress, today’s news about the ShellShock vulnerability lead me to come to terms with another harsh reality: my energy for dealing with sysadmin work for my own website has emptied.

The box this site was running on was not in any shape to continue. The thought of rebuilding a VM from scratch when I haven’t built a server in nearly a decade sounded painful.


The upshot: I had an easy plan B.

At the day job, we’ve been Pantheon customers for over a year, and their platform is familiar, powerful, and hit the core use case I needed: keep my blog running. (The other stuff, we will come back to.)

The migration process – from registering a personal account, to spinning up the new site, to importing, to configuring and pushing to production, to activating payment and cutting over the DNS, took about 45 minutes. (I’m not including the 5 minutes where I completely screwed up the initial configuration process.)

Quick. Easy. Mostly painless.


The downside: the other stuff that ran on the box – including RemyWiki – is not running on this host.

RemyWiki may not be familiar to the people who read my blog – it was tucked away on the site, almost a separate world – but it is/was a very active and busy MediaWiki install that documented English language Bemani information.

The challenges of running it boil down to three:

  1. It has the same problems as above – not only does it need sysadmin time and energy to maintain the host, but it also needs its own care and feeding for patching, something I had fallen way behind on (and patching MediaWiki is hellish).
  2. It is a natural magnet for spammers, to the point where I had to turn off registrations and ask people to email me if they wanted access (which I was never very quick in turning around).
  3. It probably doesn’t make a lot of sense to keep running an informational resource for a hobby that I’m no longer actively involved in, or at the very least, have it so closely tied with my personal site.

So with that in mind: if there are Bemani community folks out there who want to pick up the pieces and get the thing running somewhere else, please reach out. I want to give it a good home, as I know people have poured nearly 10 years of care and feeding into the content. It’s more than a little devastating to know I can’t give it that any more.

Walking In The Sand: Belated Thoughts On Punchdrunk’s “The Drowned Man”

In October, as part of our vacation to London, we took in two viewings of Punchdrunk’s latest production, The Drowned Man. Despite promises to write about it, I never did.

The show ended its run tonight. So what better time to finally try to draw some thoughts together than tonight, after the show can never be seen again?

The general format is, for the most part, as it was for Sleep No More: the masks; the loops; the roughly three hours; a vast space to explore.

The story is not Shakespeare, but instead Georg Büchner’s Woyzeck crossed with Nathanael West’s The Day of the Locust. The narrative is expressed through two parallel tracks running almost in mirrors through the space. It is not a 1920’s hotel in Scotland (actually a six story building in Chelsea), but a 1960’s American movie studio and surrounding village (actually an abandoned post office opposite Paddington Station). The cast feels exponentially larger: eight per “side” of the story, with fourteen in the middle, for a combined cast of around thirty.

With the mechanics out of the way, here are my scattered memories of the two visits, eight months removed:

After far too many visits to SNM, the struggle of trying to figure out a new space was such a joy. My mental map for the McKittrick is a seared memory, so to be faced with four gigantic floors and no sense of where anything was felt very liberating. It was also terrifying for the first hour, as the fear of missing out comes on strong.

I had always felt a little disappointment that there wasn’t more to be found in Sleep No More that was truly hidden – I’m aware of one passageway, and I was taken through it in my first visit. But the space in Temple Studios was full of these rooms – hidden behind curtains, across darkened hallways, and through tunnels in the sand. This made me ridiculously happy on multiple levels, and all of the rooms had that level of Punchdrunk set dressing love that I remembered so fondly. The reel-to-reel room, the sunflower room, the foley room; the entire desert floor, the church, the wardrobe; the Masonic Temple, the board room, the drugstore…so many of the rooms are unforgettable.

The soundtrack was impeccable, a mix of early 60’s American classics (think Shangri-Las and Avalons) and, strangely enough, the soundtrack from Perfume – The Story of a Murderer. “[The Method Works!](https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JnjeoZCdmg4)” is the most parallel to the use of Bernard Herman’s “Prelude and Rooftop” from SNM.

Casting was unsurprisingly strong, and it’s hard to not to want to give Sam Booth (in the above video) credit for his portrayal of Leland Stanford. He looms large over the goings-on, and hit just the right air of confident, disarming, and haunting.

It is rather tragic that TDM has come to a close, and while part of me wants to hope they’ll shut down SNM and convert the space, I also know that there aren’t many places in NYC that could contain that show. The space was truly massive, and as the obsessives on the TDM Spoilers FB group have detailed with the map, used very creatively. The majority of one of the floors was converted to an abandoned car park specifically for two characters to do one-on-ones in. I want to see the show live on, but I know the odds are slim.

If there is a lasting memory to be had of the show, it is this:

On our second visit, I applied the Don’t Stick Around For Scenes You’ve Already Seen rule, zipping out of a room if I got even the sense that I had perceived it before. Within my first half an hour, I came across a distraught woman in the saloon, being strongly compelled onto a stage. I stood close by and watched as Faye Greener – being played that night by Miranda Mac Letten – lip synced her way through Walking In The Sand by The Shangri-Las. It ended with her in tears, being comforted by her husband Harry, and returning to their run down room in the local motel.

That moment itself wasn’t the lasting memory. It was later in that show, when I happened into the same part of the loop and again saw Faye move towards the stage. And despite my better judgement and knowing I should go see someone else? I stayed put. It was that strong – that convincing – that I couldn’t look away.

And ultimately, that’s what I want out of theatre, and why I keep going back to immersive shows. I want the heart to win out over the head.

The Drowned Man is now closed. You can never go home anymore.

June

It’s been over two months since my last post, which is terrible. I hope to write something a little more in depth soon, but here’s some general updates for the sake of not losing track of what’s happened in my life.

JC in Spring

The weather finally turned, ending my terrible hatred of the outside that developed over a brutal winter.

Enjoying a Bottled Negroni

We went to the Manhattan Cocktail Classic Gala for the first time. It will probably be the only time: it’s a fun event, but it’s also intensely packed. I enjoy nice cocktails, but I like not moving around as a herd to get them.

The American Dream (Which Might Be A Turkey Leg)

US Soccer came to town for a friendly against Turkey in their run-up to the World Cup. Many soccer things happened, including me making a joke about Landon Donovan that could’ve gone disastrously. Thankfully, it did not.

Gervais

I saw Ricky Gervais again at the Paley Center, this time talking about Derek. It was nearly 10 years ago when I last saw Gervais at what was then the Museum and Television and Radio, which had some special significance. It’s weird to see someone like that twice separated by a decade.

I turned 34. Somehow, I don’t have a picture of any of the weekend’s activities, but heartfelt gratitude to all the friends and folks who came out to my overly planned birthday festivities. Love you all.

Woy In The Jungle

The World Cup started. If we’re playing the “Dan denotes everything of his life in stages”, the 2014 World Cup marks the completion a four-year World Cup cycle since I got back into soccer, since it was the start of the 2010 World Cup that brought me back. I have been busy getting up at 6 every morning to write about the Copa Das Copas. It has been a fantastic tournament. I will be sad when it’s over.

First Goal In An Eternity

I played my first game of soccer in 16 years, as part of the first annual Media Game at Red Bull Arena. Being completely out of shape, I spent much of the match sucking wind or getting burned. I also took a bump on a challenge, fell on my arm, and have had lingering pain for the two weeks since. But I did score one goal, and managed to celebrate it like a complete nerd, as illustrated above.

Just After Midnight

After having made something like 20 podcast appearances, I finally made my first ever television appearance, doing a 10 minute spot on NY1’s “Sports on 1: The Last Word” with Budd Mishkin last Thursday. If there’s anything I miss about living in Astoria, it’s not getting NY1 anymore, so I have not yet seen my own appearance. But a friend from work took the above screen cap, I’m getting a copy of the show on Thursday, and the producer sent me some kind words this morning, so, I’ll take it.

Gaming wise: on PS4, enjoyed the hell out of the Destiny Alpha, had a blast with Sportsfriends during my birthday, and I’m really digging Valiant Hearts: The Great War. On Steam, Nuclear Throne, Full Bore, and Shovel Knight have been good distractions over the steady hum of Dota 2. iOS, nothing substantial – mostly just Disco Zoo and Two Dots.

That’s all for now, I suppose.

KYS

A decade ago, I [inexplicably got invited](http://vjarmy.com/archives/2004/03/me_tonight_appl.php) to present at Apple Store SoHo. For an hour, I tried my best to regale Apple Store customers with game demos, a few jokes, and my best sales pitches. It was my first real-world post-college “presentation”.

It was pretty bad, from what I can recall.

These days, I can’t seem to stop talking. I’ve given two work-related talks in the last month. I’ve appeared on four podcasts in the last week. I actually like speaking in public.

What’s the difference between now and then? *Knowing.*

It’s knowing what you’re talking about, and trusting in that knowledge. It’s easy to fill yourself with doubt when speaking publicly, and worry that you might make a fool of yourself. Truth is, so long as you can speak naturally, you won’t.

It’s knowing your audience. Who’s listening, and what are they expecting? What do they want to get out of it? Figure that out, and focus on it.

It’s knowing your tools. Some expertise in PowerPoint or Keynote goes a long way, sure. But know what your laptop does when you plug it into a projector. Know if the venue even has a projector. (Sometimes it doesn’t.)

It’s knowing how to tell a story. Maybe there’s a hook, maybe there’s a twist, maybe there’s a moral or punch line. Your job is to get your audience to that payoff in an interesting way.

It’s knowing when to talk, and when to let things breathe. Silence feels uncomfortable, especially in front of a crowd. Giving your ideas space lets them develop and sink in. Avoid talking just to fill the silence. Avoid stating the obvious.

It’s knowing how to improvise. Network connections go down, so figure out what you’d do without the live demo. Questions come out of left field, so be game for anything. Figure out how to deal with curveballs.

And here’s the curveball in my advice: presenting isn’t any different from the rest of your life. All these skills? You need them just as much when you’re not waving your arms at slide decks.

Don’t treat it as a separate activity. You’re always presenting. You probably just didn’t know it.

Struggling with the dark and responding to the light.